Pharmacy and climate change: The link
(By Estelle Yau, 13/12/21)
The United Nations climate summit, COP26 in Glasgow, recently ended after two weeks of negotiations by world leaders. The health community came together to send a message to national leaders and delegations, setting out that climate change is a public health emergency and a health threat multiplier. Over 450 organisations representing more than 45 million healthcare workers have written an open letter to heads of state and national delegations, the Healthy Climate Prescription, calling for urgent climate action to protect people’s health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed climate change as an urgent health challenge for the next decade that will have an “overwhelmingly negative” impact on the world’s health.
Healthcare is a major contributor to climate, producing worldwide around 4.6% of global carbon emissions. Pharmaceuticals produce greenhouse gas emissions throughout their life cycle linked to manufacturing, procurement, transportation, packaging, disposal through incineration, and the use of drugs themselves. Being global experts in medicines, pharmacists have a critical role to play in lowering medicines-use-related carbon emissions by rational and optimal prescribing and dispensing of over-the-counter medicines, in addition to minimising medicinal waste and ensuring its safe disposal.
Moreover, through responsible use, prescribing, and waste management of medicines, pharmacists can reduce pharmaceutical-related water pollution — since traces of medicines and pharmaceuticals leak into rivers, lakes, water surfaces and sometimes drinking water can be found. Pharmacists are also well-positioned to advocate for air pollution reduction via responsible use of carbon-heavy respiratory medicines, e.g. metered-dose inhalers and inhaled anesthetics.
Warming temperatures, changes in the weather, and climate are increasing air-borne, food-borne, water-borne and vector-borne diseases such as these diseases find more locations to thrive in. Europe is expected to be the most affected geographical area due to the actual low-risk conditions, which may leave them unprepared for the raise of climate change-driven diseases (European Pharmaceutical Review, 2019). To combat the infectious conditions, more medicine will be required. Nevertheless, the global spread of antibiotic resistance is another important priority worldwide and thus, more efficient and responsible use of antimicrobials is needed. Climate change also impacts peoples’ mental health, e.g. causing stress disorder and anxiety. Extreme weather events and climate crises may compromise patients’ access to their daily health and medicines care.
Everyone is responsible for environmental sustainability, and pharmacists are particularly responsible for the sustainable use of pharmaceuticals. Due to the urgency of climate change, immediate and concrete actions should be put in place. There are numerous opportunities for political leaders, organizations, and individuals to implement positive change for the future health of patients and communities.