Doctors in British Columbia are taking the initiative to advocate for government climate action after a doctor in Nelson recently diagnosed the world’s first recorded patient as suffering from ‘climate change.’
“As physicians and nurses, we saw first-hand the physical and mental effects of climate change on our patients and communities,” says Doctors + Nurses for Planetary Health, a group of about 40 health care workers from across the province.
Hospitals in B.C. experienced waves of health issues that were either caused or exacerbated by the summer’s weather events. The June heat wave was the deadliest in Canadian history and had especially bad impacts on residents who were already struggling with other health issues, writes the Victoria Times Colonist.
The heat wave died down only to be followed by wildfires later in the summer, leading to a spike in respiratory issues for residents inhaling smoke. Doctors say they’re also seeing mental health on the decline for many people who already struggle with depression or anxiety.
After months spent in the thick of a worsening public health crisis, Dr. Kyle Merritt, head of Kootenay Lake Hospital’s emergency health department, could no longer ignore the link he was seeing again and again between his patients’ health issues and the impacts of changing climate. He eventually felt compelled to formally attribute a patient’s asthma to ‘climate change’—making her the first such recorded case in the world.
“If we’re not looking at the underlying cause, and we’re just treating the symptoms, we’re just going to keep falling further and further behind,” he explained to the Times Colonist when asked why he took the step.
The worsening public health impacts have prompted Merritt to reach out to other doctors in the region. After receiving an immediate and overwhelming response, a group of medical professionals came together to form Doctors + Nurses for Planetary Health to advocate for “bold and innovative climate solutions now.” Recently, the group met in front of Nelson City Hall in B.C.
“We wanted to do something big. We wanted to gather at the feet of power,” Dr. Kelly Lau, a family physician based in Vancouver, told the Times Colonist.
Among the group’s objectives is to lobby the provincial government to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and declare an ecological emergency.