The fight for climate change must include healthcare: pioneering education material under development in Pécs

30 September 2022

According to the Association of American Physicians, managing the widespread health effects of climate change will become its own separate field within the next decade, and according to the WHO, the deaths connected to climate change can increase by a quarter million by 2050; but the topic barely appears in medical training right now. The University of Pécs Medical School (UPMS) is leading the development of international pioneer sample education materials.

Heatwaves – dramatic increase in cardiovascular diseases. Continuously high UV radiation – increase in skin diseases and abnormalities. This are probably the most apparent examples for the effects of climate change on health, but they are in reality a lot more extended, and have connotations for the entire healthcare industry even today. Their systematic treatment is still only in the future, and this is mostly caused by climate change not really appearing in medical trainings. This is why the CLIMATEMED projects was created, and with the leadership of UPMS the international development of study materials is underway.

“It is important to differentiate between adverse effects on people and on the supply chain when it comes to climate change” – says dr. János Girán, adjunct at the UPMS Department of Public Health Medicine, professional leader of the project. “The personal effects can be serious of course, but this can be further exacerbated if the supply chain and its workers are not properly prepared.” The adverse effects of climate change are surprisingly widespread, and there are risks we might not even think about.

“Most people probably know how important it is to protect our skin from UV radiation on the beach, but a lot less are thinking the same in their everyday life – and that does not even mention that high UV radiation can cause vision problems aside from dermatological issues. The appearance of new disease spreader vectors like various mosquitoes and parasites has an even bigger effect, since they can now survive here as well; and they can spread diseases that were not an issue in our area so far, therefore diagnosing and treating them is not an everyday task for most doctors” – lists the expert.

Moreover, there are less obvious connections, for example the mental problems caused by climate change: climate anxiety and post-traumatic stress caused by the more and more common natural disasters- Climate change can affect our health and thereby the entire supply chain in less dramatic ways as well: János Girán and his colleagues are studying the effects of increasingly frequent changes in atmospheric pressure on patients suffering from respiratory diseases.

In spite of the long list of examples, climate change barely appears in education materials at medical schools: the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) conducted a survey in 2019, the results of which show that only 15% of the surveyed 2817 medical universities worldwide have a course dedicated to this topic.

The education material development realised within the framework of the European Union Erasmus+ program has determined multiple goals. The first is developing a 14 week course lasting an entire semester, covering the health effects of climate change, and possible treatments or preventative methods. However, János Girán believes that the education material at medical school is already overloaded, therefore aside from the standalone course, they will also develop a “sensitivity” training and methodology guide that will help educators integrate climate change knowledge into existing courses. Lastly, it is important that knowledge about the effects of climate change is integrated into the work of practicing doctors, for which further education materials are under development.

The consortium lead by UPMS also includes the National Public Health Centre, the Irish National University of Ireland, the University College Cork, the Marosváráshely Medical and Pharmacy University, and the Novi Sad Centar za zdravlje, vežbanje i sportske nauke. According to the plans, the material will be completed by 2024 Autumn, and will be available to all European medical universities.


Our previous article regarding the topic:

CLIMATEMED-project – education material development about the health effects of climate change