‘Pharmacists can and should play a role.’


Image courtesy of Pharmacists for the Environment Australia and Esa Chen

The majority of our readers believe climate change is happening and closely linked to health – but why do only half believe pharmacists have a crucial role to play? 

AJP has polled its readers to find out what pharmacists believe about climate change and its effect on health and wellbeing.

International scientific consensus is that Earth’s climate is warming, primarily due to human activities, and experts are warning that this will increasingly lead to impacts on population health. 

The climate has shown rapid warming in the past few decades, leading to extreme weather events which are becoming more intense and frequent. 

It is predicted that climate change effects will lead to increases in physical injury; heat-related illness; nutritional disorders; infectious diseases; mental health issues; cardiorespiratory illnesses; skin cancer; food security; water security; and vector-borne diseases, explains the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Based on a recent poll, 76% of AJP readers believe climate change is happening, and 73% believe climate change adversely affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, secure shelter, temperature. 

A further 70% agree there needs to be stronger climate change policy and action in Australia, and a higher reduction target for emissions.

Sixty-two percent believe I believe the recent horror bushfires are linked to climate change. 

Just 6% of respondents say they do not believe in climate change. 

PSA national president Chris Freeman says there is clear evidence of the impact of climate change across Australia. 

“There is no doubt that there will be an increasing detrimental impact on population and individual health,” Associate Professor Chris Freeman told AJP. 

“It is incumbent on all of us, as individuals, communities, and on governments to meaningfully address the impact of climate change, and from the PSA’s point of view, to minimise the impact that this has on human health.” 

However just 48% of poll respondents agree that pharmacists will have a crucial role to play as climate change has an impact on the environment, while 11% believe climate change is not relevant to pharmacy or pharmacists at all.

“The role of pharmacists will only become more important, as climate change has an impact on the environment, with it coming an increase in the risk of natural disasters,” says A/Prof Freeman. 

Grace Wong, founder and CEO of Pharmacists for the Environment Australia, agrees. 

“It’s interesting that 70% believe that stronger action is required, but only half think that pharmacists will play a crucial role. I think pharmacists have a very critical role in this climate change, environment and health discussion,” argues Ms Wong. 

“Not only at an upper level with the professional bodies that represent pharmacists … but also down on the individual pharmacist level. 

“If we are health professionals, as all pharmacists are, and all pharmacists do care for their patients and the healthcare system and want to contribute, it really seems a no-brainer that that connection is there that pharmacists can and should play a role,” she says. 

“Some people might think they need to do something grand or something world-changing but it’s not about that – it’s about everyday actions. 

Ms Wong provides some practical examples: “At their workplace for example, pharmacists working in the community – what are they doing about reducing, re-using, recycling? The basic three things. 

With any things that they have in the pharmacy, whether that’s packaging or medicines, promoting quality use of medicines, or whether that’s promoting products in their front of shop that give consumers a choice around a sustainable option.

“Or perhaps pharmacists working in the hospital setting – how are their departments linking into the rest of the hospital’s sustainability programs, do they have a green champion to help get some of these initiatives started and on track?” 

Ms Wong encourages pharmacists to get involved. 

“Why do so many pharmacists think action is needed but it’s not them? We need strong action from everyone,” she says. 

“The main thing we need is a change in mindset – we can’t really have our heads buried in the sand any longer. Look at what’s happening around us… These hailstones, I’ve never seen anything like it. These fires – tomorrow there’s going to be another fire warning. There’s all these things happening around us, we can’t really live in a silo of working in pharmacy and not being aware of the environment around us and how that impacts the patients but also how our own health, our family’s health.

I think that change in mindset is important, to be open to learning more, to be open to the idea that health and the environment are actually strongly intertwined, we can’t really have one without the other.

She says since the bushfires have happened over the summer, Pharmacists for the Environment Australia has received more interest of people wanting to join and get involved.

“They’re coming out of the woodwork, perhaps [climate change] is something they’ve talked about but now they want to take some action.

Find Pharmacists for the Environment Australia on Facebook here 

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