CLIMATE CHANGE AND HEALTH – HOW DO THEY FIT TOGETHER??In many areas we are feeling the changes in the climate. Hotter summers, floods and shortages of drinking water have become more common in recent years. But how does climate change affect our health in the long term?? Numerous researchers are getting to the bottom of this question. Therefore, this year's WHO World Health Day on 07. April under the motto "Climate change and health.
Prof. Dr. Susanne Vogt, director of studies in the master's program Interprofessional Health Care in Pediatrics (M.Sc.) and Prof. Dr. Peter W. Gundling, Dean of Studies in the Master of Naturopathy& complementary medicine (M.Sc.) give an insight.
Consequences of climate change on health
When talking about climate change and health, several factors are important. "It already starts with the fact that there are more extremely hot days in the year", explains Susanne Vogt and continues: "With children, the heat-related illnesses such as overheating or also dehydration have been increasing there in the last few years."If the climate changes, we will more often have harsh winters and very hot and dry summers in Germany, too. This has a direct impact on our health. "The high temperatures in particular are a tangible aspect of climate change that not only affects children. Old or sick people also suffer greatly from heat. This ranges from circulatory collapse to death," adds Peter Gundling.
There are direct and indirect factors of climate change that have an impact on our health. According to Vogt and Gundling, these include:
– Heat and its effects on vulnerable groups – Better conditions for viruses due to changing climate – More frequent natural events such as floods – Tree death and thus less CO2 decomposition
Climate change is complex
However, there are not only factors of climate change that directly affect our health, but also incidents that healthcare must adapt to. Floods like the one in 2021 in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate are among the scenarios that pose major challenges for residents, doctors and psychologists.
"In addition, migration, which is accelerated by climate change, will make our cities even more crowded, and we must adapt to this in therapy and medicine. People come with completely different prerequisites, with a different vaccination status, with traumas and much more," the head of the study program points out. "In speech therapy, for example, we have to look at whether someone simply doesn't speak enough German or whether there is a speech disorder that may have been caused by a stroke."
According to Susanne Vogt, the topic of health is currently so complex that interprofessional work will become indispensable in the future: "Currently, especially in pediatrics, there is an incredible amount of theoretical work on how care can work better. However, there are still very few concepts that can be applied in practice. This is going to change a lot in the next five to ten years, and climate change will certainly drive it."What is important here is not only medical care, but also closer integration, for example, with pedagogy.
Approaches to deal with the climatic consequences
While contact between the individual medical specialties must become closer in order to create holistic and crisis-proof care centers, we can also do something ourselves. "We can achieve a lot with healthy and conscious nutrition," says Peter Gundling. For example, eating less meat is not only healthy for us, it also saves a lot of CO2. The Dean of Studies explains: "Climate change. Health have two factors. One is the influence described earlier directly on our health through heat and more. On the other hand, our behavior also has an influence on climate change. The healthier we behave towards our environment, the more favorable this is for the environment, so that in the best case climate change is slowed down."
The dean of studies highlights the following aspects for this:
– Healthy diets with less meat and locally grown – Less plastic packaging – Exercise in nature and with alternative means of transportation – More sustainable and nature-oriented living
So everything that has an impact on our health, such as a balanced diet or replacing the car with the bicycle every now and then, has a positive impact on our environment at the same time. "If we live with nature, for example also by taking walks in the forest, we perceive the changes caused by climate change much more directly and can then focus on a healthier lifestyle," finds Gundling. Consuming more plant-based products, saving CO2 and avoiding waste may seem like small things compared to global climate change, but: "If everyone did something, the positive impact on the environment would be very large. A health-conscious person produces a healthier environment, which in turn produces a healthier person," says the Dean of Studies.
A look into the future
In the best case scenario, we work together to keep our environment healthy and slow down climate change. Nevertheless, medical and therapeutic care is preparing for scenarios in the event that this plan does not succeed. "In fact, we already have to deal with crisis situations today," Susanne Vogt says, and Peter Gundling confirms: "I would also prefer it if we didn't need these concepts, but we already have to deal with migration, natural disasters and much more today. Both are certain: healthcare will be transformed. Have to adapt to the effects of climate change. Whether it is interdisciplinary concepts, crisis care in the form of vaccination mobiles or a change in treatment by general practitioners. "To stay with the migration example: We may eventually have to prioritize who gets medical care and when, because we have too many patient:s. Then simple things will no longer be able to be treated by doctors. But let's hope it doesn't come to that and we all do something against climate change and for our health now. Together, interdisciplinary," concludes Peter Gundling.