The Impacts of Climate Change on the Healthcare Sector

by Anna Subbanna

Older generations have always thought of the effects of climate change as an abstract idea that will occur far in the future. Apologies for the wake-up call, but the future is now. Many different sectors have already seen the negative consequences of climate change and are calling for immediate action. 

The Immediate Effects of Climate Change

As global temperatures continue to rise, emergency medicine sees an increase in cases, especially among the older generations. Cases of heat strokes have been spiking in areas that experience unusually high temperatures. In many cooler areas, patients do not consider heat strokes a possibility and consequently do not make it to the hospital in time. Moreover, the increased pollutants and pollen in the air lead to increased respiratory illnesses, such as asthma or severe allergies. The WHO approximated 250,000 annual deaths from 2030 to 2050 that could be attributed to “climate change-related increases in heat exposure in elderly people, as well as increases in diarrheal disease, malaria, dengue, coastal flooding, and childhood stunting” (Haines, Andy, and Kristie, “The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health”).

How Rising Temperatures Affect Medical Care

One of the most prominent sectors affected by climate change is healthcare. As global temperatures rise, natural disasters, such as forest fires and hurricanes (Climate Change and Law Collection), see a significant increase. Many states, like California, shut off electricity in high-risk areas to prevent wildfires. However, around 250 Californian hospitals have had their power shut off due to this practice (Salas, “The Climate Crisis and Clinical Practice). Vital medical equipment such as ventilators, MRIs, and electrical oxygen tanks have to rely on backup generators to operate properly. Thus, a blackout puts all patients that are dependent on these kinds of technology at risk. It is especially harmful to limited-resource hospice patients that get medical treatment in their houses, as most of them do not have access to a backup generator and must find other ways to ensure their survival. Additionally, the increased hurricanes can lead to destructions of hospitals and more power shortages across the impacted area. Although it may not be discernible to the naked eye, if one looks further, climate change is very harmful to physicians ability to care for at-risk patients 

The effects of climate change are far-reaching and have already begun to metastasize into different parts of the medical sector. The noticeable consequences are only the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully, policies will change before the medical community experiences the rest.