Climate Change, WMA Member Survey


Wilson_edited-1(16.04.13) For those who believe the overwhelming scientific evidence of the effects of climate change and those who do not, the increase in extreme weather events we are experiencing suggests the weather, as they say, “Is a changing”.

Weather related disasters affecting communities have accelerated over the past century. During the period 1900 to 1940 there were an average of 100 such disasters per decade. During the 1960s that increased to 650 per decade. In the 1980s it was 2000 and in the 1990s 2800 per decade.

The World Medical Association has extensive policy on climate change established initially in the WMA statement on the Role of Physicians in Environmental Issues (October 2006) and most recently detailed in the WMA Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change adopted by the 60th General Assembly in New Delhi (October 2009). This latter declaration recognizes that while national governments have a most important role in responding to climate change, physicians also have a responsibility to support efforts to mitigate climate change and help patients adapt to its health effects.

As a part of ongoing efforts to support responses to climate change, the WMA established an environmental caucus which meets regularly in conjunction with WMA Council meetings. Last fall the Caucus surveyed WMA members to assess implementation of WMA’s green policies within its membership. The goal was evaluate medical associations’ involvement in those areas and get useful guidance for potential additional activities.

Responses were categorized into the following topics.

Activities run by member associations related to the general topic of climate change:

  • Advocacy, such as participation in experts’ meetings nationally and globally; monitoring of international regulations on environmental issues; oral and written statements urging budgetary commitment to climate change; funding for environmental programs related to health; recommendations for specific national legislation relating to control of green house gas production, green adaptation practices, reduction of chemical pollution and human exposure to chemicals; mitigation of the health effects of toxic exposures, and establishing of ad hoc committees on environmental protection for monitoring and advocacy.
  • Policy formation and education, such as continuing medical education regarding environmental pollution
  • Raising awareness activities such as public campaigns, lobbying for new regulations, information to patients via radio doctors programs and trouble shooting of medical waste
  • Policy guidance and development
  • Research
  • Circulation of information on the topic of the health effects of climate change

 Activities specifically related to WMA policy:

  • Circulation of WMA policy within the network of member organizations, to relevant national decision-making bodies and to the press
  • Use WMA policy in individual medical associations’ policy development
  • Translation and explanation of WMA policy and posting on the web site
  • Introduction of the policy and appointment of a rapporteur for the policy

Suggestions for further assistance from the WMA to member organizations:

  • Helping to further sustain the debate on environment and health
  • Circulating WMA’s policies, emphasizing the importance of the topic
  • Making available to all national medical associations (NMA) the position statements of other medical associations involved
  • Promoting mutual cooperation through exchange of information and multidisciplinary research
  • Functioning as a resource channel through which NMAs can share each other’s approaches and local implementation of WMA policies
  • Provide NMAs with updated statistics and factsheets linking health to environment
  • Update NMAs on events and policies in the environment area at the international level
  • Promoting the participation of experts in seminars organized by medical associations
  • Funding awareness initiatives and research incentives for doctors

Other proposed environmental areas where the WMA could take a position:

  • The topic of air pollution
  • The health dimension of energy sources/policy
  • Continuing working on climate change as a priority

Participants in the survey were generally positive and welcoming of WMA activities in providing leadership and guidance to the medical profession and the greening of WMA meetings.

Climate change due to global warming is reality of life on our planet today. It has health effects that are significant and already being felt. For example extreme heat events are more frequent, of longer duration and more severe, causing increased deaths in the tens of thousands yearly.

Early research suggests that mitigation of the effects of climate change may have a link with prevention and might have significant health benefits for both individuals and populations.

In climate change vernacular, mitigation and adaption are the buzzwords.

The WMA is committed to being involved in the mitigation of climate change – that is attempting to slow or reverse climate change by decreasing green house gas production through implementation of green policies.

And it is important also for physicians to provide leadership in attempts to help patients adapt to the effects of climate change, including for example extremes of weather such as heat events and torrential downpours and flooding; changes in insect disease vector populations, and adverse effects on food sources brought on by droughts.

Based on the results of the environmental caucus survey, WMA members are engaged in dealing with climate change and have a variety of suggestions about how that can be accomplished. I commend the results of the survey to national medical associations that are looking for ways to be engaged on this important subject.

WMA President Cecil. B. Wilson, MD travels around the world talking about the WMA's work representing the millions of physicians worldwide. Acting on behalf of patients and physicians, the WMA endeavors to achieve the highest possible standards of medical care, ethics, education and health related human rights for all people. This blog will chronicle these travels and important issues.