Healthcare professionals around the world are calling on governments to ensure improving air quality and tackling climate change are prioritised in the economic recovery to the Covid-19 crisis.
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An open letter addressed to the G20 world leaders, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, emphasises that air pollution from sources including road traffic “was already weakening our bodies” before the pandemic.
“It increases the risk of developing, and the severity of: pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart disease and strokes, leading to seven million premature deaths each year,” it adds.
The letter is signed by over 350 organisations representing an estimated 40 million health professionals globally. “A truly healthy recovery will not allow pollution to continue to cloud the air we breathe and the water we drink,” it says.
The letter claims that, in healthy economies, cities prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, workers have access to well paying jobs that do not exacerbate pollution or nature degradation and rivers and skies are protected and clean. Human bodies are more resilient to infectious diseases under these conditions, it claims.
The UK has already seen increased uptake of walking and cycling since the start of the pandemic, with many cities now introducing temporary infrastructure and other measures to support and encourage demand.
Globally, the current crisis saw an estimated 17% reduction in total carbon emissions during the peak of the lockdown, with almost half of this decrease coming from surface transport.
The open letter suggests that “smarter incentives and disincentives” are required to achieve a healthy economy after Covid-19, including reforms to current fossil fuel subsidies and a shift towards renewable energy.
Addressing world leaders, it urges: “As you direct your attention to the post-Covid response, we ask that your chief medical officer and chief scientific advisor are directly involved in the production of all economic stimulus packages, report on the short and long term public health repercussions that these may have, and give their stamp of approval.
“The enormous investments your governments will make over the coming months in key sectors like healthcare, transport, energy and agriculture must have health protection and promotion embedded at their core,” the letter states.
Signatories include the world Medical Association, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the International Council of Nurses, the World Organization of Family Doctors and, in the UK, the British Medical Association.
(Photograph: Lana Elcova - Shutterstock)