An elderly Canadian woman who had been facing respiratory issues could possibly be the first woman in the world diagnosed with suffering from “climate change”. Doctors responsible for the diagnosis blamed heatwaves and poor air quality for the patient’s health conditions. The patient is in her 70s, lives in a trailer, and has an underlying condition of asthma. But according to Dr. Kyle Merritt, head of the Kootenay Lake Hospital’s emergency room (ER) department, the condition worsened after the heatwave due to the lack of air conditioning.
“She has diabetes. She has some heart failure...She lives in a trailer, no air conditioning,” Merritt said. “All of her health problems have all been worsened. And she’s really struggling to stay hydrated.” The doctor mentioned that this is the first time in over a decade that the phrase “climate change” was used in someone’s diagnosis.
On being asked about the reason behind writing that, Merritt said, “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.”
Due to increasing temperature, there was a significant rise in the number of patients at the hospital. This prompted the healthcare workers of Nelson, the city the woman was diagnosed in, to form a Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health group. This initiative was taken by Dr. Merritt who reached out to the healthcare workers in Prince George, Vancouver, Kamloops, and Victoria. "We’re in the emergency department, we look after everybody, from the most privileged to the most vulnerable, from cradle to grave, we see everybody. And it’s hard to see people, especially the most vulnerable people in our society, being affected. It’s frustrating,” he says.
Merritt said that the response was quick and almost 40 healthcare professionals got together who are now “working to better human health by protecting the planet,” according to the group’s Twitter page.
“I was really quite amazed at how many people have decided to jump in,” said Merritt regarding the growing number of healthcare workers disturbed due to a decline in the health of their patients due to climate change.
“I don’t think people realize the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change on human health,” Merritt told the local British Columbia news outlet Castlegar News during a climate action demonstration last week. “Working with patients directly, we are actually starting to see the health effects of climate change now. It’s not just something that is going to happen in the future.”
Canada saw one of the deadliest heat waves in June with the temperature hitting 49.6 degrees celsius. This heat crisis killed over 500 people. The wildfires that followed the heat waves destroyed the air quality for over 2-3 months over 40 times more than what is acceptable. According to the BC Wildfire Service website, the Kootenays region in British Columbia witnessed approximately 1600 wildfires this year. Pictures of roads and houses being melted because of the heatwave circulated on social media. Residents were seen visiting outdoor pools checking in into hotels to use air conditioners to find relief. British Columbia was highly affected by air pollution. The 2021 Health Canada analysis showed that the “ 10 census divisions in Canada with the highest exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) were all found in B.C.’s Interior.” It also showed that those census divisions had the highest rates of premature death.
“A lot of people in the Kootenays sort of thought that this would be a good place to hide out while the rest of the world falls apart. But it’s, of course, hitting us here just like it’s hitting many places, and we’re really seeing the impacts,” said Merritt.
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