Climate Week 2019: Addressing an Urgent Threat to Health

2019-21 Climate and Human Health Fellow Dr. Caleb Dresser at the Climate Strike in Boston on September 20, 2019.

Climate change poses an urgent threat to our fundamental human rights, including the right to health. An irrefutable body of scientific evidence demonstrates the various mechanisms through which climate change directly and indirectly threatens human health and well-being. Agricultural resources and land use have already been affected by climate change; water scarcity has increased, leading to progressive desertification; vector-borne diseases are spreading to new geographies; and extreme weather incidents from heat waves to hurricanes, violent storms, coastal and in-land flooding, threaten people daily.

The consequences of climate change do not distribute themselves equally across populations – poverty, stigma, discrimination, and other vulnerabilities related, for example, to geography exacerbate the risks of harm.

To promote and protect the health of the most vulnerable people, the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard C-CHANGE), and the Department of Emergency Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are pleased to announce the launch of the Climate and Human Health Fellowship. The Fellowship, the first of its kind at Harvard University, and second in the country, will train physicians to examine and advance evidence-based policies that help build climate-resilient communities and health systems.

This two-year experiential fellowship training includes a master’s degree in public health (research methodology) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, research projects focused on community- and hospital-based resilience and response strategies, and policy and advocacy training with partners in Washington D.C. and elsewhere.

The fellowship is committed to training the next generation of physician leaders pursuing careers in research, advocacy and policy-making to ameliorate the impact of our climate on human health.

The fellowship’s research and advocacy priorities for 2019-2021 include, but are not limited to:

1. Forecasting demand and response strategies to protect the medically vulnerable

In the past decade, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods in the United States have impacted health care facilities across the country, imperiling both acute and long-term care of patients, as seen following Hurricanes Katrina and Maria. We are focused on combining existing and novel data sources to map medically vulnerable populations, predict their needs, and provide actionable information to communities and health systems in the wake of disasters and infrastructure damage to mitigate or minimize disruption of care.

2. Heat Waves: Community Awareness, Mitigation and Preparedness Strategies

Heat islands disproportionately affect economically disadvantaged and socially marginalized communities. While current research is focused on examining demand and surge in health care facilities, we work with local communities to better understand and attenuate the impact of annual heat waves. Through participatory research with the affected communities in greater Boston and beyond, we seek to provide evidence-based recommendations for improving self-agency, mitigation strategies, assistance and response.

Fellows hold a clinical appointment at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) Department of Emergency Medicine and Harvard Medical School, and are based at Harvard FXB and Harvard C-CHANGE. In addition, fellows have the opportunity to be mentored by faculty from across Harvard, including the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics and the Harvard University Center for the Environment. The fellowship is directed by Drs. Satchit Balsari and Jay Lemery.

The fellowship is part of the LCF Consortium on Climate & Health Science Policy, in partnership with the Climate & Health Science Policy Fellowship at the University of Colorado. Off-site education is obtained through internships and visiting scientist opportunities at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other sites.

We welcome our inaugural fellow Dr. Caleb Dresser, instructor at Harvard Medical School, and emergency physician at the Beth Israel Lahey Health.

Learn more about the fellowship here.