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Nurses call for climate change focus in preventive health strategy

Nurses, doctors, psychologists and dietitians are among the healthcare workers calling on government to recognise climate change in the National Preventive Health Strategy.

They were among the dozens of health groups that signed a joint statement calling on Minister for Health Greg Hunt to ensure the strategy was "fit for purpose in the 21st century".

The statement was sparked by a consultation paper for the Strategy, released by Hunt late last month, that did not make any direct mention of climate change.

“The World Health Organization has described climate change as the defining issue for public health in the 21st century, and it poses significant immediate, medium-term and long-term risks to the health of Australians and communities around the world,” the statement read.

“Climate change affects health in many ways: directly by the increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as prolonged heatwaves, floods and bushfires; and indirectly through worsening air quality, changes in the spread of infectious diseases, risks to food safety and drinking water quality, and effects on mental health.”

The Australian College of Nursing, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Health Services Union and Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association were among the statement’s signatories.

Hunt announced the Strategy in June last year and explained that it would provide an overarching, long-term approach to prevention in Australia and identify areas of focus for the next 10 years.

But Fiona Armstrong, executive director of the Climate and Health Alliance, said the work would all be “done for nought” should climate change not form part of the Strategy.

“If the government chooses to ignore the health impacts of climate change, they are refusing to prevent that thousands more Australians will suffer from infectious disease, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, heat stress, mental illness, violence, food insecurity, poor water quality and poorer nutrition,” said Armstrong.

Dr Gemma Crawford, president of the Australian Health Promotion Association, said: “We welcome a national blueprint for prevention. But our collective efforts will be undermined if we fail to recognise the impacts of climate change – the biggest threat to the health of our families, communities and planet.

“Building capacity to implement measures to reduce health vulnerability to climate change is critical.”

The consultation paper is open for feedback until 28 September. The Strategy will be developed by March 2021, after a pause due to the emergence of COVID-19.

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