OTTAWA — A new report examining the health impacts of climate change says more Canadians than ever are facing serious health risks from heat waves and wildfires, prompting warnings from doctors that we need to do more to adapt to the reality of a warmer planet.
The annual Lancet Countdown study looks at more than three dozen markers for human health impacts of climate change globally.
“This year we saw people suffering intense heat waves, deadly floods and wildfires,” said lead author Marina Romanello, a biochemist at London’s Institute for Global Health.
“These are grim warnings that for every day that we delay our response to climate change, the situation gets more critical.”
In Canada, the authors note, the heat dome that descended on British Columbia and parts of the Prairies in June and July “would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change.”
That heat wave lasted several weeks and saw the town of Lytton, B.C., destroyed by a fire a day after it recorded a temperature of 49.6 C, the highest temperature ever seen in Canada.
The Lancet study says that heat wave was responsible for at least 570 deaths in Canada, and hundreds more in the United States.
Across Canada, the risk of death from extreme heat for Canada’s seniors rose more than 50 per cent in the last four years, compared with the years 2000 to 2004. Exposures to wildfires grew almost 20 per cent in that time, but not uniformly, with Indigenous Peoples at much higher risk.
First Nations people living on a reserve are 33 times more likely to be forced to evacuate due to a forest fire than people living off reserve, the Lancet report said.
The authors also said that in 2020, heat caused the loss of more than 22 million hours of potential labour in Canada, harming human health and productivity at the same time.
Globally, climate change left almost one-fifth of the world’s land surface in extreme drought in 2020. Between 1950 and 1999, that value never exceeded 13 per cent. The resulting impact on crops saw a decrease in production of rice, soybeans, wheat and maize of between two and six per cent.
Dr. Courtney Howard, an emergency room physician in Yellowknife and past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, helped write the Canadian briefing note out of the Lancet Countdown’s global findings.
She said this year the focus was more heavily on the need for adapting to the fact that climate change isn’t just real, it’s already hurting us.
“So how are we going to get each other through these heat waves and these wildfire episodes in a way that’s as healthy as possible?”
The Canadian briefing note lays out several policy requests, including more green space in urban areas to offset the impact of heat waves, and a national strategy for adaptation to climate change that takes into account the serious harm to human health.
The authors are also highly critical of the federal government for allowing itself to be heavily influenced by lobbying from the oil and gas industry. They said in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, fossil fuel industries and associations met with federal officials 1,224 times, an average of 4.5 meetings every day.
Comparatively, they say environment groups met with federal officials 303 times.
“Energy transition policy must be developed without such excessive industry pressure,” the report said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Islander living with HIV for 3 decades reflects on World AIDS Day – CBC.ca
Troy Perrot-Sanderson has lived with human immunodeficiency virus for almost 30 years, but he’s only recently started talking about how he became infected.
“It’s a very difficult thing for me to talk about,” said Perrot-Sanderson, in an interview tied to Dec. 1, which is World AIDS Day. “I’ve only really started dealing with it.”
He said he was 21 years old when he was sexually assaulted, while he was living in Alberta.
After the rape, Perrot-Sanderson said his life “spiralled” as he used drugs and alcohol to cope.
He has just started to see a counsellor to help him deal with the trauma.
HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.
Perrot-Sanderson remembers that when he was first diagnosed, he thought his life was over. It took two decades after AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s to find an effective combination of drugs to treat it. In Canada alone, a 2017 report estimated, nearly 25,000 people had died of the disease by the end of 2016.
“I just slowly prepared myself to die for a few years,” Perrot-Sanderson said.
Advocate for others
He said he got more optimistic after he starting taking drugs to fight HIV. He volunteered and worked at AIDS PEI (later renamed PEERS Alliance) and was even acting executive director for a time.
“We can take medication and live a pretty normal life,” he said.
Of today’s PEERS leader, he added: “I can’t thank them enough. They’re doing all kinds of amazing work in the community.”
PEERS Alliance runs a number of education and outreach programs, working with a wide variety of people including gay and lesbian youth and adults; the trans community; and people who use drugs, who are susceptible to getting infected due to shared needles.
Still, as Perrot-Sanderson marks this World AIDS Day, he said it’s important to remember the people who have not survived, noting: “I have lost a lot of friends over the years.”
He worries there’s apathy around AIDS and HIV in 2021.
“A lot of people just don’t talk about it or think about it any more,” he said. “We know how to protect ourselves now — we certainly know so much more, we know how to prevent this disease.”
Hopes for the future
Josie Baker is the executive director of PEERS Alliance, and hopes people will take part in an open house set up to mark World AIDS Day.
Baker noted that there is better access to testing now, with at-home kits available for use “in the comfort of someone’s own home.”
Baker said non-nominal testing is also available, where each test is assigned a number instead of a name before going to the lab for analysis. That means people can be assured nobody at the lab will know who tested positive.
There are still pressing issues that require lobbying, though, 40 years after the HIV crisis began. Baker said having an HIV care specialist on P.E.I. would help, since many have to go off-Island for specialized care.
She also said being HIV-positive still carries a stigma on P.E.I. and elsewhere, and people should be able to access care and live in their communities free of judgment.
“That would be my hope: to end the stigma,” said Baker.
Perrot-Sanderson agrees, saying stigma often prevents people from seeking medical help.
“People ignore it and don’t protect themselves,” he said.
Singapore tests out ‘smart bandage’ for remote recovery
Researchers in Singapore have developed a smart bandage to enable patients to have chronic wounds monitored remotely via an app on a mobile device, potentially saving them visits to the doctor.
A research team at the National University of Singapore has created a wearable sensor attached to a transparent bandage to track progress in healing, using information like temperature, bacteria type, and levels of pH and inflammation.
“Traditionally when someone has a wound or ulcer, if it’s infected, the only way to examine it is through looking at the wound itself, through visual inspection,” said Chwee Teck Lim, lead researcher at the university’s department of biomedical engineering.
“If the clinician wants to have further information then they will obtain the wound fluid and send to the lab for further testing,” he said.
“So what we’re trying to do is use our smart bandage to cut the number of hours or days to just a few minutes.”
The “VeCare” technology will enable patients to convalesce more at home and visit a doctor only if necessary.
The bandage is being tested on patients with chronic venous ulcers, or leg ulcers caused by circulation problems in veins.
Data collection by researchers on the wounds has so far been effective, according to Lim, who said the smart bandage could potentially be used for other wounds, like diabetic foot ulcers.
(This story refiles to correct to cut extraneous word in the first paragraph)
(Reporting by Ying Shan Lee; Writing by Masako Iijima; Editing by Martin Petty, William Maclean)
Courts block two Biden administration COVID vaccine mandates
The Biden administration was blocked on Tuesday from enforcing two mandates requiring millions of American workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a key part of its strategy for controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can resolve legal challenges.
Doughty’s ruling applied nationwide, except in 10 states where the CMS was already prevented from enforcing the rule due to a prior order from a federal judge in St. Louis.
Doughty said the CMS lacked the authority to issue a vaccine mandate that would require more than 2 million unvaccinated healthcare workers to get a coronavirus shot.
“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million healthcare workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty.
Separately, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated.
The contractor ruling applied in the three states that had filed the lawsuit, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, one of at least 13 legal challenges nationwide against the regulation. It appears to be the first ruling against the contractor vaccine mandate.
The White House declined to comment.
The legal setbacks for President Joe Biden’s vaccine policy come as concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant could trigger a new wave of infections and curtail travel and economic activity across the globe.
Biden unveiled regulations in September to increase the U.S. adult vaccination rate beyond the current 71% as a way of fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.
Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations have sued to stop the regulations.
Tuesday’s rulings add to a string of court losses for the Biden administration over its COVID-19 policies.
The most sweeping regulation, a workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November.
In August, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the administration’s pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)
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