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Friday, April 25, 2008

Public Health Preparedness

A new report sponsored by Environmental Defense had identified some potential gaps in the preparedness of local health department in the United States in regard to managing climate risk. A survey of health officials generated the following results:

"Nearly 70% believed that their jurisdiction had already experienced climate
change in the past 20 years, and 78% believed that their jurisdiction will experience
climate change in the next 20 years. Roughly 60% thought that one or more serious
public health problems will occur in their jurisdiction in the next two decades as
a result of climate change, and slightly over half of the directors felt preventing or
preparing for climate change was an “important priority,” yet relatively few reported
it as a top priority for their health department. Only 19% of respondents indicated
that climate change was among their department’s top 10 current priorities, and
only 6% indicated climate change was one of their health department’s current top
five priorities."

While at first glace such results may suggest that local health departments are a bit slow to pick up on the issue of climate change and the need for adaptation, the low prioritisation of climate change may also reflect the fact that climate risks to health are in fact less immediate and of lower potential severity than other drivers of adverse health outcomes. A few simple questions could have helped shed some light on this, such as asking health professions how they rate the climate change health threat relative to say diabetes, heart disease, obesity, HIV/AIDS etc. While there is very likely a deficit of resources among health professionals in preparing for climate change, given that there will always be competition for resources, it's hard to determine what the appropriate balance of investment should be across the portfolio of health challenges that communities face.

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