Role of health sector crucial in climate change advocacy in India: Study

This first-of-a-kind study was conducted to understand the knowledge, attitude, perception and practice of the healthcare sector towards climate change by Healthy Energy Initiative – India in collaboration with data agency, Morsel India.

The largest ever survey on climate change, conducted among over 3,000 healthcare professionals in India, has revealed the health sector should play a crucial role in action and advocacy on climate change in India. Over 85% respondents believed the healthcare sector has a responsibility to address climate change and reduce their own carbon footprint.

This first-of-a-kind study was conducted to understand the knowledge, attitude, perception and practice of the healthcare sector towards climate change by Healthy Energy Initiative – India in collaboration with data agency, Morsel India. The study was conducted among 3062 healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, hospital administrators, ASHA Workers, NGO health staff and healthcare students between August and December 2020 from across six states– Uttar Pradesh, Bihar Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Findings of the survey were released during a webinar organised online and it was found that overall awareness of climate change among all sections of health workers is as high as 93%. Of the seven groups of health workers interviewed, doctors were the most aware category at 97.5%, followed by healthcare students at 94.8% and hospital administration staff at 94.3%. ASHA workers with 92.5% awareness ranked fourth, leaving behind nurses at 89.6% who are the least aware of climate change, its causes impacts and links to human health among all the healthcare workers.

Dr Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee, Lung Care Foundation told The Indian Express that the findings of the study clearly indicate that health sector leaders want the sector to be front and centre of the action and advocacy on climate change.

Over 81% of the respondents agreed that deforestation, burning fossil fuels, waste generation, emissions from industries and population growth are the main reasons for greenhouse gas emissions, which results in massive climate change. Almost 74% of the respondents also believed the public health community is now faced with an increased burden of climate-sensitive diseases, that directly and indirectly impact both healthcare professionals and infrastructure.

A total of 88.7% of respondents believe that air pollution related-illnesses will have a direct impact on the health sector, ranking it as the highest threat among heat and cold related illnesses, vector- and water-borne diseases, communicable diseases, mental illnesses and malnutrition. 68.9% of the healthcare workers believe that climate change has a direct impact on the health sector, while 74% believe that there has been an increase in climate-sensitive disease burden on the populations. 72.8% of those who participated in the survey agreed that it was the need of the hour and climate change and its health impacts must be included in the medical curriculum in India.

The survey also showed a majority of the respondents did not believe there were adequate preparations to deal with the pandemic and the healthcare infrastructure is not even prepared to deal with a mass epidemic in the future. One of the major findings of the survey on priorities in the post-Covid-19 recovery plan was that 83.4% of the respondents indicated that activities prioritising the health of citizens must be high on the post Covid-19 recovery plan, whereas 82.8% of the respondents said activities focussing on conserving and protecting the environment in a strict manner is important Poorvaprabha Patil, President, Medical Students Association of India said, “The findings clearly lay out that health professionals and students – more than ever – want to be involved in fighting climate change and protecting our communities. The findings also bring out the gaps that exist in our own knowledge as a community, that we are determined to work on.”

Dr Poornima Prabhakaran, Deputy Director of the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India said, “Climate change is a health issue, and it is quite clear from the study that there is a great opportunity for engaging the health sector professionals to embrace climate change mitigation, adaptation and risk reduction practices and embark on a path towards climate resilience.” Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, WHO also attended the webinar.

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