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In the Field: Connecting the Dots between Climate Change and Migrant Health

On Wednesday, MCN’s Amy Liebman, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health, will be traveling to Washington, DC to attend the Climate for Health National Leadership Convening, a one-day conference on health sector engagement in climate change, organized by a coalition between a number of health leaders including the Public Health Initiative and Kaiser Permanente.

MCNClimate change can be a tough subject for a clinician to address, when a clinician’s focus is on the day-to-day needs and health issues of his or her patient panel. So why should climate change be on a migrant clinician’s radar?

Clinicians talk separately about many of the forces that affect outdoor laborers like farmworkers and construction workers, factors like emergency preparedness, or heat stress, but “climate change is something that embraces many of them,” explained Amy, and may become more relevant or pervasive as the climate shifts.  

Additionally, several studies have already documented the correlation between climate change and migration, where new, unpredictable, or more severe weather patterns result in short-term environmental damage or longer-term environmental degradation, which in turn fuels migration. While many factors are at play in the decision to migrate, climate change will continue to put pressure on the world’s poorest communities, where infrastructure is weakest, and safety nets less available. 

While the correlations between climate change and migrant health are many and complex, they are certainly interrelated. “Environmental factors are an important reason why people migrate internationally,” Amy pointed out. “When we look at our overall picture of migration and health, we need to understand the impact of climate change on migration, and we also need to understand: What is the role of the health care provider?” 

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