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A call for strengthening climate change education for all health professionals

09 Jun 2022

This is an open letter to universities and all education stakeholders from the WHO-CS Working Group to advance action on Health and Climate Change, of which the World Heart Federation is a proud member. 

Global health challenges are emerging as environmental and climatic changes disrupt all societies worldwide. Health systems and patient needs will be very different from the past. Health professionals must be prepared to recognize and address the health risks and impacts of climate change and to ensure functioning healthcare systems in a climate-changed future.

We, the WHO-Civil Society Working Group to Advance Action on Climate Change and Health, urge the deans, academics, managers and other teaching staff of health professional educational institutes, as well as the associated accrediting, examination, and licensing bodies to ensure graduating health professionals are prepared to identify, prevent, and respond to the health impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.

Human health is inextricably linked to planetary health. From floods to wildfires to heat emergencies, climate change is already impacting health and health systems with disadvantaged and Indigenous communities being affected the most. Health professionals have an ethical and professional responsibility to be familiar with both current and future climate change and environmental health threats in order to fulfill duties to their patients and to society.

Responses to a global health emergency, whether a pandemic or a climate disaster, air pollution or biodiversity loss, need resilient health systems and a highly proactive, skilled and committed health workforce.  One of the key strategies to achieve resilient, low-carbon health systems is to strengthen educational and training programs for all health professionals. Health systems must also do their part to reduce the global greenhouse gas emissions produced in the delivery of healthcare services.

Universities and education stakeholders must update and evolve programs such that they address risks from climate change as well as opportunities to improve the global public health response to climate change. A recent survey showed climate change educational programs for future doctors are lacking worldwide, and are often student-led. Another global survey with 160 health professional schools indicate ​many barriers are being faced in integrating climate and health content into curricula, including lack of institutional support.

To empower health professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to respond to climate change, we present the following calls to action:

  • Integrate climate and health competencies into all health professional curricula, accreditations, and continuing professional development;
  • Provide a health lens to support the development of educational programs on climate change and health in other sectors to foster multi-sectoral collaborations;
  • Advocate for and provide additional funding and resources for climate and health research and education;
  • Share educational resources to expand educational opportunities.

We acknowledge that local settings and frameworks vary greatly due to different political, socio-economic, health care and education systems and that the above recommendations can be contextualised for uptake in each setting.  As a first step, we invite institutions, academic leadership, faculty, students, and alumni to commit to make climate change a part of the health curriculum at their own institution to ensure a safe and healthy future for all.

Signed and endorsed by members and alumni of the WHO Civil Society Working Group to advance action on Climate Change and Health:

  • ABRASCO
  • Climate and Health Alliance
  • Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
  • Health Care Without Harm
  • Indigenous Allied Health Australia
  • IFMSA
  • IPA
  • International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation
  • Vital Strategies
  • WFPHA
  • World Heart Federation
  • World Medical Association

 

Examples of existing courses and resources

Appendix I: Example courses on climate and health

  • Climate and Health Responders Course for Latin America. This is a 5-week free, 15-hour online certificate course. The course aims to engage the public health research and academic communities to facilitate climate and health research used to inform health and policy decisions throughout Latin America. Spanish is the primary language of this course and English translation will be provided. This course was created by the Pan American Health Organization, the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education, and the InterAmerican Institute for Global Change Research (IAI): https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/research/global-consortium-climate-and-health-education/climate-and-health-responder-course-latin-america
  • MOOC course on “Global Health at the Human-Animal-Ecosystem Interface”. The course was produced by the University of Geneva in collaboration with WHO, involving more than 30 top experts from over 20 academic and research institutions and international organisations based in Geneva, Paris, Montreal and the world. This MOOC proposes a dynamic, international and interdisciplinary programme based on the One Health approach (human- animal- environmental dimensions), with one of the modules dedicated to “Management of Ecosystems under Global Changes: Implication for Human Health”. The course has attracted more than 10,000 learners from around the world and was included in the University of Geneva’s curriculum. Link to the teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WT7-cC21uLU&feature=youtu.be&list=PLnZcy8OmLJ2wB7Fa8Zlh_-QKYIwrVhTir ; Link to the course: https://www.coursera.org/learn/global-health-human-animal-ecosystem
  • “Core Competencies” developed by the GCCHE

The Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE), consisting of over 250+ health professional schools in over 40 countries, has created and vetted a framework for the “core competencies” all health professionals must have. It has been endorsed by the American Association of Medical Colleges, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (North America), and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health in the European Region: https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/research/global-consortium-climate-and-health-education/core-competencies-0

 

Useful resources

Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE) online resources:

https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/research/global-consortium-climate-and-health-education

Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) website: https://climateandhealthalliance.org

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report: https://www.ipcc.ch/

Planetary Health Alliance Educational resources: https://planetaryhealthalliance.org/education/

Planetary Health Course (English): https://www.ufrgs.br/telessauders/cursos/

Planetary Health for Primary Care (English): https://www.ufrgs.br/telessauders/cursos/

Saúde Planetária (Brazilian Portuguese):  https://www.ufrgs.br/telessauders/cursos/

UN Climate Change Learn website: https://www.uncclearn.org

Useful books for adding to course reading lists: Haines & Frumkin; Myers & Frumkin

World Health Organisation (WHO) Capacity Building on Climate Change and Health Toolkit: https://www.who.int/activities/building-capacity-on-climate-change-human-health/toolkit