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Making our health systems climate change-proof

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust
Published online: 31 March 2019

AUSTRALIA’S health systems must be strengthened to cope with the coming challenges of climate change, according to the authors of an editorial published by the Medical Journal of Australia.

“Australia is geophysically stable, protecting us to some extent from catastrophic events such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but we are vulnerable to climate-related disasters and emergencies, including heatwaves, bushfires, droughts, cyclones and floods, the frequency, intensity and duration of which are being amplified by climate change,” wrote Professor Gerard FitzGerald, Professor of Public Health at the Queensland University of Technology, and colleagues.

A whole-of-system approach and improvements to the timeliness of disease surveillance were needed, they wrote.

“Current disease notification systems are slow, and monitoring of the response capacity of the health system relies on individuals recognising and reporting emerging problems,” FitzGerald and colleagues wrote. “Enhanced real time surveillance of ambulance, emergency department, and hospital capacities and of patterns of demand should enable more timely recognition of new problems and increase the response capability of the health system.”

“Thirdly, we need to determine the standards of care relevant to particular situations.

“A comprehensive whole-of-system approach will help Australia build a resilient health system that can adapt to the challenges of climate change. The task will not be easy, and there will inevitably be difficult discussions for all health professionals,” they concluded.

“Whole-of-system approaches are feasible if they are built upon routine processes and they respectfully engage all elements of the health system, both institutional and community-based.”

  • Cate Swannell


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