Obama Announces Climate Change as Public Health Threat, Rural Tasmanian Medical Student Already Tackling Threats on Global Scale

Obama Announces Climate Change as Public Health Threat, Rural Tasmanian Medical Student Already Tackling Threats on Global Scale

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US President Barack Obama at a round-table discussion at Howard University yesterday warned that climate change will start affecting the health of Americans in the near future. The White House has begun an initiative aimed at addressing its effects on communities and is recruiting top technology companies to help prepare the nation’s health systems. However, a rural Tasmanian medicine student has already begun global campaigns to raise awareness of the threats to health from climate change.

President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House

President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House

The Obama administration is expanding private access to government datasets to enable researchers to find new ways to limit the impact of climate change on health. Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and ten other technology companies have committed to devoting staff and resources to using the data to help fight infectious diseases and identify outbreaks around the world, reported SMH.

The White House is holding meetings this week with medical professionals and academics and in the next few months Surgeon Vivek Murthy will host a climate change and health summit in Washington. Authorities want to raise awareness about concerns over increasing smog, lengthening allergy seasons and increasing risks of extreme weather-related injuries.

But an Australian student is already well aware of the health threats of climate change – and she has been taking initiative to raise awareness on a global scale.

25-year-old medical student from Queenstown in Western Tasmania, Alice McGushin, in March ran workshops in Istanbul, Turkey for fellow medical students from 15 different countries on mitigating the health threats of climate change.

McGushin in the national student representative for volunteer organisation Doctors for the Environment Australia, following in the footsteps of her mother and father, who were an avid community worker and and local GP, respectively.

Alice McGushin

25-year-old Tasmanian medical student Alice McGushin

She told the ABC climate change would exacerbate all existing health threats and she considers it the biggest health threat of this century.

“It will increase our risk of going into conflict and war, it will exacerbate the transmission of communicable diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, as well as food and water borne diseases like diarrhoea…people don’t recognise that climate change is a health problem,” she said.

The University of Tasmania student has been presenting and co-ordinating workshops with the International Federation of Medical Associations. Her most recent workshop in Turkey involved students from Denmark, Poland, Algeria, Sudan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and the UK just to name a few.

McGushin will continue her work and ambition to raise awareness of this important health issue with workshops in the Phillipines in mid-2015.

A White House statement earlier in the week read: “The sooner we act, the more we can do to protect the health of our communities, our kids, and those that are the most vulnerable…[the new initiatives] will allow us to better understand, communicate, and reduce the health impacts of climate change on our communities.”

Google has donated 10 million hours of high-performance computing to help scientists eliminate the spread of infectious disease and create early warming capabilities. Microsoft is developing drones that could offer early alerts to authorities about rapidly spreading diseases.

This is all testament to building evidence and concern over climate change and its phenomenal detriment to the environment and health, which Alice McGushin can attest to following her discussion with medical students from all over the globe.

“Every person in the room mentioned things they were seeing in their own countries that were as a result of climate change, such as increases in drought, and severity of typhoons, which brought home the message to everyone in the workshop that climate change is real and it’s happening,” she said.

However, skeptics still remain. A Texan republic concerned about the effect on business responded to Obama’s actions by saying last week that “global warming alarmists” are overreacting because “the satellite data show it ain’t happening.”

Let’s hope the the health threat climate change poses will alert these skeptics to the very real danger it could have on the globe.

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