Canadian children face serious risks as a result of climate change and health-care providers must adopt new practices to mitigate the effects, says a guidance document from a national group of pediatricians.
Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to heat sickness, reduced air quality due to pollution and wildfires, infection from insects, ticks and rodents, and other hazards that are expected to pose greater risks as a result of climate change, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s document, published Wednesday.
“There is a change in children’s health issues within Canada and pediatricians are going to be dealing with conditions that they didn’t expect in their region or their area,” said Irena Buka, lead author of the guidance and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
The CPS is urging health-care professionals who care for children to be aware of the changing risks and be prepared to provide advice to caregivers about the reality of rising temperatures, extreme weather events and infection prevention.
“Health professionals, they really need to focus on broadening their training and broadening their education,” Dr. Buka said. “It is a call to action on that.”
The CPS document is also calling on health professionals to push governments to do more to mitigate the effects of climate change and to ensure children’s unique health needs are taken into consideration during any disaster planning.
“It is a plea for doctors to get involved,” Dr. Buka said.
Susan Elliott, a medical geographer at the University of Waterloo who studies global environmental health, said many Canadians still don’t realize the health risks of climate change are already being felt across the country. And there are many unanswered questions about how to deal with the risks. For instance, the rates of obesity and asthma are on the rise among Canadian youth, but on days when it is very hot and humid, parents can’t safely send those kids outside to play, Dr. Elliott said.
She added that many physicians may not be able to recognize certain conditions that are becoming more common as a result of climate change, such as Lyme disease. Medical schools need to incorporate more of this information to help prepare the next generation of doctors and the health-care system also needs to do more to address these issues, she said.
“Can a physician recognize West Nile virus? Can a physician recognize symptoms of malaria?" Dr. Elliott said. “How are we training our health-care professionals?”
Courtney Howard, an emergency room doctor based in Yellowknife who wrote about the health effects of climate change in the Lancet journal last year, said the CPS statement sends an important message to the health community about the new health risks we face.
“We know that climate change is the biggest health risk of the 21st century,” she said. “From a really practical position, [health professionals] need to know what to do.”
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