Adaptation: Field of Action Human Health

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Human health can be affected by climate change.
Source: Miss X/photocase.com

Temperature changes that occur as a result of climate change can have a strong impact on the health of the population. The increasing number of hot days, new pathogens and extreme weather events pose challenges. These are to be countered primarily through education, early warning systems and medical research.

Technical measures

In addition to medical adaptations of prevention such as protective vaccinations, there are various technical measures for the health adaptation to climate change. These mainly concern medical research. The monitoring of diseases focuses on the observation of pathogens that have not yet been native to Germany, but could migrate in the future due to global warming. Monitoring networks that already exist, such as the ones at the Robert Koch Institute, should be used and expanded for this purpose.

Heat stress indoors can be reduced by structural and technical protection measures such as thermal insulation and shading/blinds. Social community facilities, especially ones where risk groups are located, such as hospitals or old people's and nursing homes, should be protected by technical devices. In certain cases air-conditioned rooms are also helpful.

Ecosystem measures

In order to implement ecosystem-based measures for health adaptation to climate change, preventive health care must be linked to urban and regional planning: green spaces with sufficient trees, courtyard gardens or roof vegetation as well as fresh air corridors are crucial to health, especially in urban planning. They reduce the heating of cities, thus protecting the population from greater heat. Urban planners and local authorities should therefore counteract the increasing sealing-off of residential estates with roads.

The establishment of "climate comfort zones" in the form of easily accessible green spaces within walking distance for refuge during extremely hot weather conditions is becoming more and more important, especially when temperatures in buildings are very high.

Education & information on health adaptation

Educational measures about the consequences of climate change and the resulting health risks are central to protecting the population. Only in this way can citizens assess the health risks and take appropriate precautions. For example, information on how to behave during heat waves is made available to those interested by the German Weather Service (DWD), the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), the German Environment Agency (UBA) and the responsible state offices.

Medical and nursing staff should also receive specific training in order to act as disseminators, promoting the exchange of information and greater awareness among the population.
In addition, the "German Alliance for Climate Change and Health" (KLUG), founded in 2017, can make a major contribution to climate protection. The alliance aims to highlight climate change as a key health issue and to develop strategies to enable health systems and societies to respond to global warming and mitigate its effects.

Special early warning systems with locally adapted countermeasures have already been introduced in some cities. They send out concrete warnings including the time and place. As a result of the heat wave of 2003, the DWD, for example, developed a nationwide heat warning system. This gives information about the services of the public health system and nursing homes in the form of a newsletter as well as direct emails about increased temperatures, allowing people to take appropriate preventive measures. Citizens also have the option of receiving information on heat waves, storms or the pollen count sent directly to their mobile phones via an app from the DWD - so that they can take precautions themselves.

Against the background of the heat waves of recent years (2015, 2018 and 2019), efforts to prevent heat are underway in numerous cities. In addition, so-called "Trinkpaten" (networks of neighbours offering door-to-door assistance) help prevent heat-related illnesses in the elderly, especially those living alone, not recipients of care services.

In order to support municipalities in preventing heat-related diseases, the federal and state working group "Health Adaptation to the Consequences of Climate Change" under the leadership of the Federal Ministries of the Environment and Health has drawn up recommendations for actioning the preparation of heat action plans (2017). These are intended to serve as a blueprint for local authorities in the development of regionally or locally adapted heat action plans.

In addition to improving information and education, however, medical prevention and care must also be adapted in order to integrate health problems caused by climate change into public health care programs and contain vector-borne diseases in the long term (climate-proof health care). Appropriate prophylaxis and vaccinations are possible measures in this case.