WMA Proposes Action Plan to Protect Health from Climate Change

(17.10.2009) A package of proposals designed to raise the world’s awareness of the link between health and climate change and to minimize the risks of increased malnutrition, death, disease and injury, particularly among the most vulnerable populations, have been put forward by the World Medical Association.

At its annual General Assembly in New Delhi, India, today the WMA approved a new Declaration setting out an action plan to bring health to the forefront of the climate change debate and to mitigate the serious health risks facing the world. WMA leaders insisted that physicians must be more involved in the development of policies to protect the health of all their patients.

Entitled the Declaration of Delhi, the document echoed warnings that severe changes in weather patterns would lead to increased malnutrition and suffering from heat waves, droughts, fires and floods, and greater health inequalities throughout the world.

Among the specific measures being demanded by the WMA are that:

  • designated funds should be provided for developing countries to strengthen their health systems
  • sustainable development and green adaptation practices, especially the right to safe water and sewage disposal for all, are developed
  • national medical associations and physicians should be fully involved in the development of national and local plans to prepare for climate emergencies, including initiatives to stop the privatization of water
  • public health systems be strengthened and the number of physicians and healthcare workers in public health and emergency planning increased, along with training for other physicians
  • studies should be undertaken on the burden of disease caused by global warming, on the effects of poorly treated wastewater used for irrigation and on the impact on the most vulnerable populations
  • physicians should be encouraged to undertake patient environmental impact assessments to evaluate patients’ risk from global climate change and should act within their own clinics and hospitals to reduce the environmental impact of medical activities
  • governments should plan for environmental refugees within and between countries
  • the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December agree to specific goals for reducing climate-altering emissions to address the impact of climate change

Dr. Edward Hill, Chair of the WMA, said: ‘The WMA strongly believes that the contribution of physicians is indispensable if we are to minimize the health risks facing us all. But if governments continue to regard health as a secondary issue when it discusses climate change, it will be a disaster for us all’.

Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai, from the Canadian Medical Association, who chaired the WMA’s climate change working party, added: ‘We should recognize that most initiatives which improve the impact of climate change also improve individual and population health – that what is good for the environment is also good for health. So, for example, if we can protect safe water supplies, develop- sewage disposal and prevent the privatization of water, we also significantly improve the health of populations.’