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Archive for the ‘Climate change’ Category

By FPH’s Sustainable Development Special Interest Group

There are many good reasons to prioritise sustainability for the health of future generations. Protection of key planetary boundaries such as climate change, air quality, ocean alkalinity and land forestation are crucial to whether our children and grandchildren can survive and have a tolerable quality of life.

However, this can be a hard sell to those making key political and economic decisions internationally, for electorates, consumers and shareholders who have come to accept excessive consumption and unequal concentration of wealth.

Therefore, we need to emphasise the benefits of sustainability to those alive today. Fortunately, these benefits are many both to individuals and to communities. Unfortunately, these benefits are rarely discussed in political and economic discourse.

Let’s start with the benefits of sustainable nutrition. These were well summarised by Barak Obama at a recent Global Food Innovation Summit (and a Guardian article on 27 May 2017). More sustainable food means more locally sourced fruit and vegetables and less processed food and meat from ruminant animals. Not only will this reduce greenhouse gases (especially methane) and protect forests but it will also mean more food security for poorer nations and less chronic disease for those in richer countries.

Another win-win opportunity is in sustainable travel. This means more walking and cycling but also better public transport (which always involves a contribution from walking or cycling). This reduces carbon emissions, improves air quality in urban areas and improves health and wellbeing in travellers (see, for example, the PHE and LGA Report ‘Obesity and the physical environment; increasing physical activity’ in November 2013 and PHE’s ‘Working together to promote active travel’ in May 2016).

There are many other direct benefits to public health from energy efficiency, urban green space and reducing waste. Public Health professionals need to publicise this evidence and advocate for action on sustainability at local, national and international levels. This is not just good for the planet but good for the health of the public and the effects will be immediate.

 

Learn more about the work FPH is doing on behalf of our membership on the General Election.

 

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  • by Professor Sue Atkinson
  • FPH Health and Sustainability SIG

I am in Paris – for COP 21.

COP 21 (21st Conference of the Parties) of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are the negotiations between the 195 countries attending, to make a deal to curb emissions and keep global warming below 2°C.

I am not at the main COP negotiations in Le Bourget but at the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) Health Summit and other parallel health meetings.

Unfortunately the timing of the Summit means I missed the FPH ‘Sustainable development and health’ SIG meeting in Nottingham on 4th December which followed the instigation of the SIG at the Faculty Conference in June.

People are starting to recognise the importance of health, climate change and sustainability and accepting what the Lancet commission identified in 2009, that ‘Climate Change (CC) could be the biggest global threat of the 21st Century’.

The Health Summit was the buzziest conference in ages. Over 500 people and oversubscribed, it was chaired (amusingly and with clear insights) by John Vidal (Environment Editor for the Guardian) and attendees included Health Ministers, the Deputy Mayor of Paris, WHO and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, the German equivalent of DFID), who both supported the conference (thank you), representatives of health and climate change groups and alliances from across the globe.

The presentations, parallel sessions and panel discussions were informative, interesting, lively, amusing, challenging and enjoyable with many interesting discussions taking place around the edges with an exchange of shared ideas and experiences to take back home.

Some of the snippets I picked up included:

  • Wales has a ‘Wellbeing of Future Generations Act’ and a commissioner to make things happen. It is one of only two countries with sustainability in its constitution.
  • California showed the importance of political leadership in Senator Kevin de Leon, who is introducing a variety of relevant bills and noted that air pollution is not just a public health issue but also a political and civil and human rights issue because of its inequities.
  • Air pollution is worst in poor areas and African American children have a 50% higher risk of being hospitalized and Latino children a 40% higher risk of death from asthma.
  • Health care systems are part of the problem. In USA they account for 8% of emissions. Hospitals across the globe are increasingly taking action to reduce energy usage (and costs) but much more needs to be done.
  • Reducing red meat consumption (and its procurement by hospitals and institutions) is good for health and the planet. The Buddhist Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan has moved to a plant based diet to improve health and the environment.
  • Cities are increasingly taking action on reducing emissions where states and countries are unable to reach agreements. In Paris over 100 mayors came together with the Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo calling for them to unite and work together to mitigate climate change. London has reduced its carbon emissions by 14% since 2008 but I am sure Bristol and elsewhere may be doing better.
  • The Paris Deputy Mayor – Bernard Jornier – clearly understands well the relationships between health, climate change and inequalities.
  • Goldman Sachs decreed in September 2015 that “Coal is in terminal decline”.
  • Using fossil fuels means there are more than seven million extra deaths per year.
  • The co-benefits of addressing health and climate change together are clear – e.g. increasing active travel – walking and cycling – is good for your health and good for the planet.

And much much more …

We have come a long way since COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, when those of us interested in health and climate change could fit around one small coffee table and it now feels as though the importance of health in the climate change negotiations is starting to make its mark.

CC science is real but it is often difficult to get our heads round and some of the environmental and other impacts seem like a long way off and we know that politicians and all of us (including teenagers) find it hard to recognise and take action on threats that are in the more distant future.

Health brings home the real story of the impact of climate change – imperative, immediate and life changing.

Families displaced because of floods and typhoons, children starving as a result of drought resulting in failing crops, older people dying in heat-waves, even as recently and as nearby as 15,000 deaths in France in 2003.

With 500 people still dying annually of Malaria, the 2.5 million people suffering from the disease could increase again to over four million with the spread of mosquitos due to climate change.People are sick and dying from lack of clean water as a result of either drought or destruction of infrastructure by severe storms and tsunamis.

Closer to home, just this weekend the floods in Cumbria have caused distress and destruction as well as the financial costs of these storms.  And of course the important links between climate change, disasters and water shortages, refugees and terrorism.

IMG_0867

Recent floods in the north of England (like York City Centre, pictured) have brought home the reality of climate change to the UK

The latest Lancet Commission (2015) identified that ‘Tackling CC could be the greatest health opportunity of the 21st century’.

The health summit felt both daunting and optimistic. We must act now.
The spoken word poet – Sophia Walker – captured it in her piece written for the Health Summit as “…we aren’t just talking about the weather” and suggested that nine billion people on the planet could work ‘miracles’ if they all did their bit.

We in public health must do ours, not just individually but in whatever ways we can through our building it into our daily work, e.g. identifying the co-benefits of improving health and the environment. It seems that at last the penny may be dropping that climate change and health are inexplicably linked.  What’s good for health is good for the planet.

References
Lancet Commission. 2009. “Managing the health effects of climate change”. Lancet and UCL Institute for Global Health Commission. April 2009.

Lancet Commission.2015. “Health and Climate Change: policy responses to protect public health” Lancet. June 2015.

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Gelada baboons
Move along there: Gelada baboons

By Dr Jackie Spiby

We are still here in Addis Ababa. We have survived the rainy season and the sky is blue again.

Many of you will have seen the news about the famine in the south east of Ethiopia where it borders Sudan and Kenya. Sitting in Addis, it is as difficult to understand the whole story here as it is at home. We pick up the news and some of the debate from the BBC when the internet is working. When we travelled to the south recently, everywhere looked really fertile and verdant as it was just after the rains. But at work I do hear about problems with food-aid delivery and families that can’t feed their children.

As recipients of Global Fund money, my organisation has to have pristine financial arrangements. The management audit letter we received recently could have been one found in any PCT. By the way do PCTs still exist? The only difference was that they were querying why a goat had been bought. I recently found myself on an appointments committee for an internal auditor – something I have managed to avoid in the UK. Amazingly my interviewing instincts rose to the fore. I was delighted that my first choice was the same as the finance director’s. It did help that the interviews were in English. So, another country another culture but actually much is the same.

We took a few days off to travel north to trek in the Simien mountains. Ethiopia lies in the East African Rift Valley so much of the north and central areas are hilly in stark contrast to the desert areas bordering Sudan and Somalia. We were walking at three to four thousand metres and were surprised that it was still scattered with villages, and, wherever we went, small children were keeping an eye on the cattle and sheep. They said they went to school but I wasn’t really convinced.

Walking into a BBC crew filming the gelada baboons was quite surreal. We had just stopped to put on our macks as it was raining when we heard a very posh voice asking if we could move please as they were trying to film the baboons running down that particular hill. If you ever see a documentary on these baboons in the Simiens we were there, and we saw the locals on the other side of the hill ‘encouraging’ the baboons to move.

One of my areas of work is developing a volunteers’ strategy. Not international volunteers but local volunteers. PLHIV associations are similar to charitable organisations in the UK so their boards are all volunteers and most of the programmes workers are also volunteers. However they do get expenses. The latter get 206 birr a month for travel. That is £7.60. In the focus groups they tell me they do it for humanitarian reasons. However when I asked if they also had paid work, they said it was hard to get work as they were HIV+. So what is a volunteer? I really enjoy the focus groups: however formal I try to make them, we have to have a coffee ceremony, and they usually end with music and dancing. The highlight last week was meeting a 22-year-old woman who finished school at grade 6 but was carrying a beautiful, chubby smiling baby who everyone proudly told me was HIV negative.

Am I making any difference? Not an unusual question for anyone in public health. I’ve been asking it my entire career. I’d better get back to work and make sure that I am.

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Monkey drinks Cola in Addis Ababa

A monkey drinks cola in Addis Ababa

By Dr Jackie Spiby

Hello from Addis Ababa.

It is a warm and sunny morning. By lunchtime it will be hot, but not too hot as we are 2,400m high and there is usually a breeze. When I go out it will be dusty, smelly and, if I noticed it anymore, the air will be polluted. This is mainly due to the huge volume of taxis, buses and lorries, most of which are ancient and belch out dark smoke which hangs around the city. I walk everywhere or go on a crowded, filthy line-taxi; so am I green? I came on a plane so blew my green travel limit and I use plastic water bottles – well I have to as I can’t drink the water but I do boil and filter so I reuse the bottles. Plastic bottles are everywhere.

I am a VSO volunteer and working in a local NGO (though virtually totally funded by external donors).  After 32 years in the NHS it was time for a change. For me that is, not the NHS because, as we know, that happens all the time. It took some time getting through the VSO process especially as my husband is here as an accompanying partner. Attending the assessment day together was a new experience. Try doing a group activity (you know one of those management games) with your partner. VSO then sends your CV out to local VSO programmes for them to see if they want you. You don’t get a choice; you just get to say yes or no to an offer. The first one was way outside of my experience, the next we had to go in five weeks; the next wasn’t viable for my husband.  Despair; but finally Ethiopia came up, an HIV organisation at national level and a country of spectacular scenery with mountains. It wasn’t the Far East which was my preference but we are here and at some point we will get to the mountains.

I am working in an organisation called the Network of Networks of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) or NEP+ for short. The HIV epidemic in Africa is heterosexual. When it emerged in the early ’90s there were no HIV services.  PLHIV started to form groups to help themselves and a few very brave souls (many of whom are dead now) came out and said that they were positive and demanded acceptance and support. My organisation arose out of the formation of these groups. There are nine regional networks, two city networks and three national ones with some 400 local networks. Civil engagement is one area of activity but primarily they are organisations that help provide prevention, treatment and care as well as projects to increase skills and employability. However, that is changing as the government starts to provide a health service. So, as ever, an organisation in change.  To think I didn’t know about the Global Fund six months ago and now I can quote the rules chapter and verse.

HIV is about poverty here, the treatment may be free but food and shelter are not and many PLHIV can’t afford the basics. Nor is the treatment for opportunistic infections free, so TB and malaria are the main killers.

So here I am. NEP+ is some 30 people – all Ethiopian, except me. It is primarily male, except me. Originally the organisation’s staff were PLHIV. As the donors started to require financial statements, governance and the like, the professionals arrived. Now the balance has changed. Is that right? Should there be positive discrimination toward PLHIVs? Can someone who is sero-negative really know or understand what it is like to be positive or even what it is like to live in a family affected by HIV? All questions that I remember discussing in the ’80s when working at the King’s Fund. All answers gratefully received.

Now more and more HIV infected people are getting treatment and living. But there are still 14,000 HIV-positive babies born a year. In the UK and US the numbers are way below a hundred. Why? Many women don’t use antenatal services or won’t get tested. Why? Lots of reasons but for some their husbands won’t let them, accessing services is too difficult or their families tell them to use traditional services. Even if a woman is diagnosed, follow up is logistically difficult and complying to the full treatment and breast feeding regime complex in a developed country, let alone a rural village with no water or electricity. The net result is a take up of about 12% of prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission treatment. One of the worst levels in Africa. Tragedy. All those avoidable deaths and HIV+ kids, let alone the number of women who don’t get treatment. The number of orphans is horrendous. The international, political voice on this one just isn’t there.

VSO volunteers work in local organisations and are paid a stipend which is equivalent to local salaries. So I am paid the same as our drivers, but I do get accommodation. That means we live and work in the community much more than the majority of ex-pats (called Farangis here) who work for international NGOS, the private sector or embassies. I think I am going native as I am starting to really empathise with my colleagues as we try to use the EU process for submitting a bid on a slow dial-up computer link or listen to a well-meaning expert from a big international NGO tell us we must do more on civil rights. Of course we should but at the risk of immediate shut down. There is a law forbidding NGOS to speak about civil rights. A classic case of can you do more inside the system or outside.  Only here is it outside the system but in the country or outside internationally? Oh I have a lot of learning to do.

Public health issues are everywhere including my diet. My hips are vanishing as my diet has drastically changed to minimal dairy with fruit, veg and carbs instead. Having had a fractured hip a couple of years ago I am a bit concerned about my calcium intake. I was taking supplements in the UK but stopped when there was a report on increased incidence of heart disease. I am eating injera, the local, unique dough that is eaten with everything. It looks like a chamois leather but isn’t too bad and is suppose to have some calcium in it.  Should I get Steve (my husband) to bring some calcium tablets back when he visits the UK in the summer?

Must go as visiting a local community project for orphans. More to come.

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Dr John Middleton, Director of Public Health for Sandwell and FPH Vice President, email vpPolicy@fph.org.uk

On first reading, the health bill seems silent on public health roles in the health service. More than 300 public health specialists and consultants who work in health service public health are justifiably nervous about what the future public health system holds for them. In a set of reforms establishing Public Health England and local-authority-based public health directors, they could have expected some acknowledgement. There is what we expected about the other two domains of public health: health protection and health improvement.

Fortunately the subtext of the bill holds much more hope for public health in health services. It confers duties of engagement, partnership, quality and reducing inequalities on the NHS Commissioning Board and GP commissioners.  Even Monitor needs public health – if it is to create national tariffs that genuinely reflect the most effective interventions delivered most efficiently rather than reward incompetence, gaming and worsening of inequalities in health services.

Health-services-related public health is arguably the most technically exacting facet of public health and certainly the most contentious. It requires rigorous knowledge of healthcare interventions and epidemiological and interpretative skills are needed to show what works and what does harm. As the margins of benefit from new drugs and treatments get smaller, careful analysis becomes ever more necessary. Assessing complex healthcare data is crucial activity – truly a matter of life and death – not an exercise of faceless bureaucracy or unnecessary management cost.  Some patients will die when we do decide to fund their high cost – and high risk – drug.

These funding decisions cannot be left to the newly emasculated NICE – implementation is local. The best national policies flounder if they are not locally understood and implemented.

Health services public health is not always popular – rationing decisions invariably get unravelled in appeals, press examination, in legal dispute and judicial review. There may be political expectation that big healthcare private organisations will bring the skills to evaluate healthcare for GP commissioners in the future. This has hardly been borne out by the   hospital deaths misinformation, or the quasi-scientific risk-stratification products on offer.

The return of public health to local authorities holds the welcome recognition of where the major influences on health still are.  Many of us cite McKeown’s decline of mortality since 1840 due to clean water, sanitation, better housing and working conditions, better nutrition and smaller family size. The big environmental challenges, work with social care on reablement and personalisation, and the need to reduce health inequalities are live issues for public health in local authorities. Twenty-first century diseases such as obesity, relationship and behavioural problems and addictions also lend themselves to big public health responses from a local-authority base.  But equally relevant in the 21st century is the health service contribution to life expectancy gain – Bunker, Frasier and Mostellar’s Millbank review concluded that about 30% of the life-expectancy improvement since the NHS came along was due to healthcare factors. The capacity for health services to do harm as well as good is immense, and the need to get better value for money in healthcare is ever more relevant.

There is growing recognition of the need for health promotion or ‘lifestyle’ interventions in healthcare. Acute services are seeing it as part of QUIPP and many are instigating ‘stop before the op’ smoking cessation programmes. GPs also increasingly have opportunities to refer to food and fitness services, psychological therapies and addiction-brief interventions. It is easy to see how GP commissioning should be involved in commissioning alcohol services – jointly with the local authority DsPH – to cover all preventive and therapeutic interventions. Less easy, but just as relevant in reducing hospital dependency, would be joint commissions on fit-for-work programmes, welfare rights and housing improvement.

With hospitals being more dangerous places than roads these days, health systems need public health skills more than ever. More than 30 consultants and specialists in public health work in acute hospital trusts. Hospitals, and health centres, are outlets for health information, signposts and venues for health promoting activity and potential exemplars of health improvement for staff, patients and visitors. Business choices for hospital and community trusts should be informed by good health-needs analysis, assessment of best evidence of effectiveness and evaluation. Care pathways should all include ‘lifestyle’ programmes as a key choice in the pathway– for example, before bariatric or vascular surgery.  This is equally relevant in GP commissioning. For the first time we are beginning to have good data about morbidity and about quality of care in general practice. These data have to inform the joint strategic needs assessments. But they also have to be interpreted and used in primary care.

Public health specialists need to be embedded in organisations because that is the only way their advice will be taken on – consultancies we all take or leave. There should be consultant level public health expertise in all arms of the new health system – including the NHS Commissioning Board and Monitor. But we need also a coherent base on which all the public health training and development is founded – only Public Health England appears capable of that. There are encouraging signs that GPs and others in the new NHS are recognising the need for healthcare public health – you won’t find it in the health bill.

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By Alan Maryon-Davis

The call went out to all churches in KwaZulu-Natal to pray for rain. The drought had ravaged Zululand for months following a disappointingly dry rainy season. For the seventh year in a row the parched land had received less than 75% of its previous average rainfall. The underground aquifers were empty. Natural springs and boreholes, the sole source for most of the rural communities had dried up. The once mighty uMfolozi river was a trickle. Severe water restrictions were in place. Farmers’ livelihoods were at stake. The situation was critical.

I had been invited to visit South Africa by the College of Public Health Medicine (ironically to talk to a number of groups about climate change and receive an honorary fellowship) and I could see the effects of the drought with my own eyes. The sugarcane fields were in a sorry state, other produce was shrivelled and even the drought-resistant eucalyptus trees, a cash crop, were showing signs of stress. The bush veldt of Zululand is well used to dry summers – but this was early spring – the seventh dry early spring – a worrying pattern. Commentators talked of climate change in action – allied to trends already seen further up the east coast of Africa.

And yet, despite the emerging threat to its own economy and the health and wellbeing of its people, the ‘Rainbow State,’ like many other countries that straddle the developed and developing worlds, is far from wholeheartedly embracing the green agenda. It is caught between, on the one hand, the need to play its part as a major economy in reducing carbon emissions to help combat global warming, and on the other, the impetus to increase its GDP and offer a comfortable lifestyle to its burgeoning, upwardly mobile, urbanised middle classes.

South Africa’s per capita carbon footprint is about the same as the European average. Its energy comes overwhelmingly from its extensive coal resources and, despite recently approving a more balanced energy-generating policy, there’s little sign of any imminent shift towards renewables or nuclear. The potential for solar energy, especially in more remote rural areas, is high – but start-up costs are considered too prohibitive to roll-out on a large scale. Other priorities, such as education, healthcare and housing, come first.

In many ways, South Africa’s dilemma over carbon emissions is typical of its fellow BRICS economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – and highlights the challenges that will be faced by negotiators at the next round of climate change talks in Mexico in December. How can the world move towards some sort of contraction and convergence formula that is fair and practicable and politically acceptable to countries at all stages of development? And at the same time ensure that those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are helped to become more resilient.

Meanwhile, back in Zululand – something good has happened. The skies have darkened, the clouds have opened and rain has filled the water tanks, runnels and ditches. Could this be the power of prayer – or merely the serendipities of a troubled atmosphere?

Either way, the sugarcane farmers and smallholders are smiling again.

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By Matthew Kilgour

What are the difficulties encountered when planning for and responding to natural disasters and adverse weather conditions in the UK?  This was the topic of discussion at the FPH Annual Conference session on Wednesday 7 July,  featuring contributions from Lucy Reynolds from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Wayne Elliott, Head of the Health Programme at the Met Office, Shona Arora, NHS Director of Public Health for Gloucestershire, and Andy Wapling, NHS Head of Emergency Response for London.

The three key environmental factors affecting UK emergency planning and response were outlined as excessive cold, heat and flooding.  All the speakers were keen to point out that the implications of these factors stretch beyond immediate and physical dangers, and stressed the need to understand the social and mental health implications of events like floods or heatwaves. Andrew Wapling, discussed the need to conflate the public health and emergency response agendas saying, “the quicker an effective response is mounted, the lesser the impact on individuals.“  He cited early response to disasters as a key determinant in minimising longer-term implications.   He also stressed the need to identify critical infrastructure and the events that could potentially ground services and impede response.

Shona Arora discussed her involvement with the response to 2007’s flooding in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. The flooding heavily disrupted day-to-day patterns of life, and vulnerable individuals and groups like the poor, the elderly or those with learning difficulties did not, in many cases, have access to the information or resources to protect themselves.  Lucy Renolds stressed this same issue in her closing remarks by saying, “it is always the poorest communities who are affected the worst”.  Large percentages of individuals affected by the flooding did not have sufficient insurance, and many were left without access to serviceable kitchens.  Ms Arora admitted that the evidence base for pre-empting eventualities like these was thin, and placed emphasis on the need to address this factor.

Lucy Reynolds highlighted the key role that mass media can play in information sharing and raising public awareness in response to disasters.  She stressed the need for reliable communications networks when dealing with disaster relief, as public phone network can become overloaded and unreliable.  The need for effective and reliable communication between departments was emphasised repeatedly throughout the session. Wayne Elliott from the Met Office said that “unless you communicate at the right time, and in the right manner, nothing will get done.”

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