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Public Health Impacts of Extreme Weather Associated with Climate Change

By Rosemary V Chaudry RN PhD MPH
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Nurses approach health from a holistic and comprehensive viewpoint. That holistic view of health is foundational to advocacy work I do as a member of several nursing and public health associations. Although climate change (CC) truly is a global challenge, my efforts focus primarily on national and state levels through my involvement with the nursing and professional organizations such as the Association of Public Health Nurses (APHN) and the Ohio Public Health Association (OPHA). My recent work with 10 other public health professionals, in an OPHA CC coalition developing a climate adaptation plan, highlights the need to identify state and community level vulnerabilities to climate threats and to develop adaptation and resilience plans to prepare for climate-related weather extremes to prevent harm to human health and the environment.

 

Our group focused on adaptation and resilience and followed the CDC’s BRACE (Building Resilience Against Climate Effects) model to develop a white paper on CC-related health effects that Ohio’s local health departments are likely to face in their constituent communities. The coalition first identified populations across Ohio at increased risk for adverse CC-related health effects and disease burdens, and then asked local public health professionals to respond to a survey about CC-related health threats and impacts in their jurisdictions. Health threats were rated across three dimensions: short-term impacts, long-term impacts, and socio-economic impacts. Extreme weather events, such as thunderstorms, flooding, and heat were noted to have impacts in all three dimensions and drought in the long-term and socio-economic dimensions. Thunderstorms were the top short-term threat (75% of respondents); flooding was the top socio-economic threat (almost 88% of respondents). The paper addresses health equity and identifies populations in Ohio that are likely to be at increased risk of adverse health and socio-economic effects associated with climate-related events including extreme weather events.

 

As the atmosphere becomes warmer and moister, more powerful and frequent thunderstorms occur that increase the threats of flooding and power outages due to large and sudden outpourings of rain. Flooding from prolonged or excessive rain contribute to adverse health effects due to standing water, water contamination, increased mold, electrocution or drowning, and agricultural damage or disruption that contributes to food insecurity, loss of productivity, higher food prices, and financial impact on persons in the agriculture industry.

 

More frequent extreme heat events exacerbate many chronic illnesses and worsen air quality and drought conditions. Drought contributes to health effects indirectly through long-term and socio-economic impacts such as altered vector patterns, food insecurity, worsened air quality, wildfires; and agricultural damage, costs of food and water, and job loss, respectively.

 

With these health impacts in mind, the white paper discusses CC adaptation in the context of public health accreditation and presents examples of adaptation and resilience areas to address organized under the 10 Essential Public Health Services. The paper includes a list and brief descriptions of resources for public health interventions to address climate-related health and socio-economic effects.

 

Public health nurses have an integral part in assisting with disaster preparedness, response, and care during the recovery phase follow extreme weather events. Outlining this role, APHN has a position paper titled “The Role of the Public Health Nurse in Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.” This paper provides guidance on how public health nurses can engage and participate in disaster planning, preparedness, and response within their communities or practice settings.

 

Adaptation and community resilience are also dependent on an informed, committed, and actively engaged community. Stand up for your community - get involved as a nurse to help preserve, protect, and promote health and to prevent illness related to extreme weather events and other effects of CC. Learn about what CC-related events are likely threats to your community and what is being done to mitigate the health effects of these events. Exercise your rights as a citizen and your ethical obligation as a professional nurse to advocate for health in your community.

 

The Association of Public Health Nurses (APHN) is a member of the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health, a partnership between Climate for Health and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE). Rosemary Valedes Chaudry represents APHN on the Nursing Collaborative. ANHE is a partner of Climate for Health, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health.  Founded by ecoAmerica, Climate for Health offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering health leaders to speak about, act on and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about our partnership and the resources available to you here.