The School of Medicine, Sydney plays its part in the 2019 MJA-Lancet Countdown on health and climate change

26 November 2019

The Word Health Organisation this year identified climate change and air pollution as the top threat to human health globally, a threat clearly visible in the poor air quality currently being experienced in Eastern Australia due to the bushfires. Last week three medical colleges declared climate change to be a public health emergency.

Professor Lynne Madden, Associate Dean of Learning and Teaching at Notre Dame’s School of Medicine, Sydney, has joined a team of expert authors to contribute to this year’s MJA-Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, led by Associate Professor Paul Beggs from Macquarie University.

This annual publication follows the relationship between health and climate change across 41 health indicators, drawing from international data that represents the work of more than 120 experts from 35 leading academic institutions across the globe. The 2019 report released on 14th November concluded that every child born today will be affected by climate change, and that new approaches to policy making, research and business are needed in order to change this. To coincide with this international report, The Medical Journal of Australia publishes the MJA-Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, which focuses exclusively on the Australian perspective.

Australia is the only country to generate its own national report, which will be launched this year in Sydney on 28th November. Professor Madden wrote on the subject of inclusion of health and climate change within medical curricula.

On behalf of medical schools across Australia, Professor Madden introduced a new indicator to monitor the inclusion of health and climate change in the education of medical students. “Health educators must prepare future doctors for the challenges ahead. Patients will present with new patterns of disease, medical practice will change as health systems move to become more environmentally sustainable and doctors will use their influence to help society to make the transition to a sustainable future. Health professionals have an important role to play in addressing climate change and medical schools must help prepare doctors for these roles.”

In parallel, a Policy Brief for Australia has also been developed in consultation with Australian professionals in the field. Georgia Behrens, a Year 3 medical student at Notre Dame’s School of Medicine, Sydney has helped synthesise the findings of the academic report and devise subsequent evidence-based recommendations for Australian policymakers.

“It is an incredible privilege to be a part of such an important and impactful global project. As a future medical practitioner, I’m hugely concerned about the impact of climate change on the health of my patients. I think that advocating for policies that will protect people against these impacts will be some of the most important work I will carry out in my professional career.”

Georgia has an ongoing interest in climate change and health and hopes the policy brief will lead to some much-needed action. “There are some incredible opportunities for Australia to be a world leader in this space, and for our governments to shape a healthier future for us all,” she says.

In 2020, Georgia will Chair the Australian Medical Students’ Association’s Global Health Committee and the Doctors for the Environment Australia Student Committee. “There’s no better antidote for despair than action!” Georgia comments. “I believe that knowing what I know about how the health of our planet affects the health of patients, it’s my responsibility to keep speaking out on these issues.”

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