Global Health and Climate Change Agenda in Jeopardy

Less than a week following the inauguration of America’s 45th president, news outlets began pumping out stories about the chief executive’s silencing of two major governmental groups. The administration banned employees in the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture from publishing any social media posts, including tweets, or press releases about their recent scientific findings.

The ultimate purpose of this gag order has not been officially established. However, this action, and Trump’s previous statements about climate change being a “hoax” have concerned climate change activists, as well as global health organizations. As more and more research demonstrates that climate change impacts the health of individuals around the world, supporters of climate change action and global health advocates are uniting to address both problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scheduled the Climate and Health Summit, a three-day conference in February to discuss the intersection of the two issues, but the new government’s transition is making officials reconsider.

During the week of January 23, the CDC announced to the media that it was indefinitely postponing the conference, originally planned for February 14-17. No public statement was given by the agency to explain the action. The Trump administration did not directly order the cancellation, but likely played a large role in the decision, according to other sponsors of the event. A co-sponsor of the event stated that organizers felt uncertain about the amount of support the administration would offer the event, given the president’s previous statements about climate change. Rather than potentially face conflict with the administration over the conference, the CDC decided to postpone holding the event until officials could discuss details with the new administration.

Friday, former vice president Al Gore announced in a release from the Climate Reality Project, that there would be a replacement for the conference. A number of organizations, including the American Public Health Association, the Climate Reality Project, Harvard Global Health Institute, and the University of Washington Center for Health and the Global Environment will sponsor the Climate and Health Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. While the goals of the meeting are very similar to the summit, the timeline has been shortened to a single day.

As global temperatures continue to set records, the consequences of climate change are already affecting the health of individuals around the world, particularly in vulnerable regions. Increases in heat have been clearly tied to the increasing number of heat-related illnesses. However, climate change also impacts many intermediary factors that result in worsened health conditions. For example, changes in temperature have allowed mosquitoes to expand their habitats, putting more of the world at risk for diseases like dengue, malaria and Zika. Scientists have also linked global climate change with increased and worsened episodes of natural disasters like floods, droughts, and hurricanes. Not only do these disasters often result in direct death and injury, they place added burdens on countries whose health systems lack the resources to effectively deal with the aftermath.

While officials in the United States continue to debate the reality of global climate change, much of the rest of the world is taking steps to study and solve the complex health problems associated with a warming planet. In July, the WHO hosted its second annual conference on Health and Climate. Although there is a growing number of countries involved in these efforts, it will be key for the United States to join them to bring about effective and impactful changes.

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