Is Canada’s healthcare system prepared for wildfire season?

Wildfire season is here. Is Canada’s health care system ready?

“From coast to coast, devastating blazes and choking smoke have become the new norm for Canada’s wildfire season. With record-breaking destruction of habitats and homes in 2023, the impact of these fires is undeniable. But beyond the visible damage lies a more insidious threat to both health and healthcare systems. As the dry winter and worsening drought conditions intensify, the question arises – is the health system prepared to face the challenges that come with the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires?

Expert in planetary health and emergency physician, Dr. Courtney Howard from Yellowknife, speaks of the overarching impact of climate change on health. With 20,000 people, including patients at her hospital, evacuated due to encroaching fires last year, Dr. Howard emphasizes the urgent need for preparedness.

### Unseen Health Risks

The latest data from the Lancet Countdown on climate change and health paints a grim picture of the health risks posed by wildfires. Exposure to wildfire danger and smoke has increased significantly in recent years, leading to respiratory issues, psychological distress, and even long-term health consequences like cancer. The effects of wildfire smoke are far-reaching, with studies linking exposure to adverse outcomes like preterm birth and reduced birth weight.

### Mitigating Health Risks

With the increasing threat of wildfires, it is essential for healthcare settings to implement measures to protect both patients and staff. Aging healthcare facilities are particularly vulnerable, making it crucial to have backup plans in place. Air scrubbers and evacuation plans are some of the strategies that can help mitigate the risks posed by wildfires.

### A Call to Action

Looking beyond individual preparedness, the Canadian Medical Association is advocating for a larger, national response to climate change. The push for a net-zero emissions health system by 2050 and the establishment of a national secretariat for climate and health highlight the urgency of the situation. Collaboration at all levels is essential to building climate-resilient and sustainable healthcare systems.

In the face of climate-amplified events, the time for action is now. Dr. Courtney Howard emphasizes the importance of working towards resilient health systems and a healthy planet. As the planet continues to warm, the need for proactive measures and collective action has never been more pressing.

The devastating impact of wildfires on health and healthcare systems serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for preparedness and resilience. As Canada’s wildfire season looms ahead, the challenges posed by these infernos cannot be understated. It is time for a coordinated, national response to address the health risks posed by wildfires and climate change as a whole. The time for action is now, and the health of our planet and its inhabitants depends on it.”



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