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Climate change is a global issue, but nurses see its effects close-up

Threats to health and healthcare systems from global warming make the need to address the world's nursing shortage all the more urgent
illustration shows planet earth in colours suggesting parts are flooded, others are overheated

Threats to health and healthcare systems from global warming make the need to address the world's nursing shortage all the more urgent

The World Health Organization estimates the world will need an additional nine million nurses and midwives by 2030, so governments need to start planning now how they are going to achieve this growth in the workforce over the next decade, or face the consequences.

The coming nursing shortage is a great concern, but it will be made worse by the even greater challenge of global warming, the health consequences of which are truly alarming.

Prospects for a child born in 2020 if global warming remains unchecked

The recent report by the Lancet, Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change , demonstrates with frightening clarity what will happen to the health of a

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Threats to health and healthcare systems from global warming make the need to address the world's nursing shortage all the more urgent


Picture: iStock

The World Health Organization estimates the world will need an additional nine million nurses and midwives by 2030, so governments need to start planning now how they are going to achieve this growth in the workforce over the next decade, or face the consequences.

The coming nursing shortage is a great concern, but it will be made worse by the even greater challenge of global warming, the health consequences of which are truly alarming.

Prospects for a child born in 2020 if global warming remains unchecked

The recent report by the Lancet, Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, demonstrates with frightening clarity what will happen to the health of a child born this year if global warming continues on its current trajectory.

Children will be most severely affected by the effects of climate change, and of course, they will have to live through them the longest.

‘Nurses see the impact of climate change on health and health systems and how both individuals and the healthcare they rely on are under increasing pressure as a result’

The Lancet reports highlights extensive damage to health as a result of global warming, including an increased burden of malnutrition as crop yields fall and food prices rise, increased rates of infectious disease, higher rates of respiratory disease because of air pollution, and increased traumatic injury and subsequent hardship as a result of more frequent extreme weather events.


Floods, as seen above in Indonesia, will become more common as the planet heats up.
And such events have enormous implications for population health 
Picture: iStock

 

Year of the Nurse and Midwife

The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife has got off to a great start. ICN, along with the World Health Organisation, the International Council of Midwives and Nursing Now, wrote to heads of state reminding them of this special year and calling on them to take decisive action to recruit and retain many more nurses.  

And it’s great to see how nurse colleagues around the world are taking the Year of the Nurse to their hearts and organising events to raise the profile of the profession and celebrate our work.

Join us in celebrating the priceless work of nurses and midwives

They are setting up events and using social media (#nurses2020) to talk to their communities and spread the word about what nurses are capable of if they are properly resourced and rewarded for the priceless work that they do.

It was gratifying to see Pope Francis mentioning the Year of the Nurse after his Angelus prayer on January 19. We need the world’s leaders to follow his example and then take decisive action to make the changes that are required.

 

The onus is on all of us to mitigate the effects of climate change

The Lancet’s prescription for dealing with these potentially catastrophic consequences is bold but not that extreme: they include phasing out coal power worldwide, ensuring wealthy countries keep to their financial promises to help low income countries, increasing access to efficient, active transport systems based around walking and cycling, and making major investments in adapting health systems to reduce the impact of climate change.

Perhaps the most important message from the Lancet report is about the requirement for all 7.5 billion people on the planet to do something to help to ensure that the lives of children born today are not defined by global warming.

That means politicians must deliver bold political leadership by making a commitment and then acting to reduce emissions. And each and every one of us should do our best to mitigate the effects of climate change on the health of the world’s population, including that of our neighbours and ourselves.


Disasters, such as the bush fires seen recently in Australia, make
addressing the world shortage of nurses an even more pressing issue  Picture: iStock

Nurses witness the effects on people’s health and on health systems

Nurses see the impact of climate change on health and health systems and how both individuals and the healthcare they rely on are under increasing pressure as a result. ICN is making sure the voices of nurses on this issue are being heard loud and clear in the circles where healthcare policymaking takes place.

The ICN’s own position statement on Nurses, Climate Change and Health, anticipates much of the Lancet report’s findings and calls on governments to take immediate action.

Development of disaster nursing competencies

The ICN is currently running disaster competency workshops in Sri Lanka and the Bahamas, and we have recently issued an updated version of our Core Competences in Disaster Nursing to better equip nurses for the challenges they might increasingly have to face.

Recent global climate events, including the bush fires in Australia and the catastrophic floods in Indonesia, leave all rational people in no doubt about the reality and potential consequences of global warming. With its inevitable impacts on health around the world, global warming makes addressing the potential nursing shortages even more critical. Let’s make sure governments make that connection and start acting on it as soon as possible.


Howard Catton is chief executive of the International Council of Nurses

 

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