Climate change and global child health: what can paediatricians do?

927_Arctic-amplification nasa
Image: NASA

A little over a decade ago, the Lancet Climate Commission concluded that anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health and, conversely, that a comprehensive response to climate change could be ‘the greatest global health opportunity of the 21 st century’. In a recent review, experts quantified the impact of climate change on health and estimated that heatwaves between 2000 and 2016 had resulted in 5.3% lower outdoor manual productivity and that economic losses from climate change related events in 2016 alone totalled almost US$129 billion.

Children pay a disproportionate price for climate change, with some estimates suggesting up to 88% of the burden of disease related to it. Such excess risks are related to a combination of physiological vulnerability, especially among young children, as well as risk of exposure. In a study of nearly 500 000 deaths in the Catalonia region of Spain during the warm seasons of 1983–2006, Basagaña et al evaluated the association between the occurrence of extremely hot days (days with maximum temperature above the 95th percentile) and mortality. They documented 50% excess mortality among infants in the perinatal period during these extremely hot days (relative risk of death from conditions originating in the perinatal period was 1.53 (95% CI 1.16 to 2.02).

Amid the doomsday scenarios that rapid climate change foretells, there is room for optimism that collective action can bring about change. With the sustainable development goals that have been signed into a global compact by 193 countries of the world, there are unprecedented opportunities to make real and lasting strides in towards better health and well-being for generations to come (starting with our children of today). Paediatricians can play a pivotal role in translating research to practice and leading a global movement that can address many determinants of planetary health and health inequities within a generation.

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