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Vol 38  No 12
April 6, 2006


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Memorial part of conference aimed at health care workers

Climate change concern

By Jeff Green

Coastline at Lance Cove, Avalon Peninsula.

Health care workers can play a major role in helping “mitigate the effects” of climate change on the general public, said a well-known Memorial researcher and one of the organizers of a special two-day conference held in St. John’s last month.

Dr. Bill Bavington, an associate professor of Community Health and a public health physician, was part of the steering committee that helped launch the Climate Change and Health Impacts Atlantic conference, which took place at the Delta Hotel March 23-24.

The event was aimed at educating health care professionals about the effects of climate change and targeted health administrators as well as health inspectors, medical officers of health, policy makers and the academic community. And Memorial played a key role in helping bring attention to several issues.

“It is important for those in the health and environment fields to be aware of current knowledge in this area to adequately prepare for possible effects to prevent or mitigate the effects on the population,” added Dr. Bavington.

The provincial government partnered with the university and Environment Canada to organize the conference. A number of speakers from all over North America, including professionals from Health Canada, the University of Toronto, Montreal Public Health, as well as the provincial government, took part. They talked about a wide range of issues such as the impacts of extreme weather events, air pollution related health impacts, water resource issues, and occupational health impacts.

Dr. Norm Catto, professor, Department of Geography, and his colleague, Dr. John Jacobs, honorary research professor, were both speakers at the event. Dr. Catto also sat on the steering committee. He said health care professionals need to properly understand the effects of changing climates and extreme weather events here in this province.

“We discussed impacts that are happening right now, and those that will happen in the immediate future, within the next 10 years,” said Dr. Catto. “This isn’t an exercise based on long-distant future scenarios ­ it is a practical examination of what currently confronts us and what effects have already been documented.”

Climate change is something that everybody has a stake in, added Dr. Bavington. He said the variations in weather and climate patterns have far reaching implications for the general public, especially those working in health-related fields.

“We should be interested in climate change because we are currently in the process of climate change globally and this can have local effects directly or indirectly,” he said. “It is thus critical that we become knowledgeable about what current thinking is about this topic, particularly in regard to local effects.”

Dr. Bavington said the melting of polar ice caps will in turn cause sea levels to rise and will affect the number of icebergs off this province’s coast. In addition, he said there are other serious health-related concerns for things such as a possible increase in mosquito and black fly populations which could serve as vectors of newly emerging diseases in this country like West Nile, as well as food and water-borne diseases.

For his part, Dr. Catto said the conference ties into his own personal research at Memorial ­ climate change effects throughout this province. “I’m interested in impacts on communities and people as well as landscapes,” he said. “I’m working with Health Canada on the simulated storm surge exercise for Port aux Basques that we will hold in the spring.”

Dr. Catto said climate change is having subtle affects on Newfoundland and Labrador. Look no further than outside your window, he said. This province has seen its fair share of extreme weather ­ ranging from floods on the west coast to heavier-than normal snowfalls in the winter.

He hoped those in the health care field realized that this province needs to prepare for the consequences of climate change.

“My responsibility is to provide information to health care professionals as to climate change, climate variation, and extreme events in Newfoundland and Labrador over the near past, present, and near future,” Dr. Catto said. “This conference is about encouraging people to plan and adapt.”

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