Health Declining: Is Climate Change to Blame? – Interview With Prof. Jason Leitch
There is no doubt that the climate emergency is affecting our world. From deforestation to the irreversible (can’t bring it back) loss of biodiversity, climate change is present everywhere. But our question is, how is this affecting our health and wellbeing?
In order to get answers we went straight to source: Professor Jason Leitch!
If you don’t know this name, Professor Leitch is the National Clinical Director of the Scottish Government. This means that he is in charge of advising the government on decisions regarding health. During the peak of Covid-19, Leitch played a vital role in keeping the public safe and continues to do so. So, it is safe to say that he knows what he’s talking about.
We asked Professor Leitch, “How does climate change and pollution affect our health?”
He answered that he believes that climate change affects health in two ways – directly on individuals and indirectly through populations. Examples of direct effects would be pollution caused by vehicle emissions and build-up of thick smog. Leitch explained that in these terrible conditions, people with asthma will suffer worse and people will become more vulnerable to things like lung and skin disease. Indirect effects would be the spread of forest fires destroying peoples homes and places of work. For example, Lytton in Canada suffered a terrible forest fire in June 2021. With homes destroyed and jobs lost, Leitch explained how this not only impacted physical health but also mental health.
With Leitch playing such a key role during the pandemic, we decided to ask him: “With the increased use of facemasks, there is also an increasing amount of waste. How are these masks typically disposed of and what can we do to help decrease this?.”
Leitch explained to us that although it is not ideal, surgical facemasks must be incinerated (burned) due to spread of disease such as Covid-19. He advised to only use disposable face coverings in essential areas such as care homes and hospitals, although he encourages the public to use reusable face masks as often as possible to reduce the amount of waste created by disposable masks.
Finally, we wanted to know: “What is your role in COP26?”
Professor Leitch’s main role in COP26 is to simply make it safe for everyone attending. For example, he was involved in the planning of the conference and is also responsible for Covid testing attendees. He also explained that within the first two days, over 25,000 lateral flow tests had been carried out with a significantly low number of positive results. Leitch also described the role of the healthcare service and what they can do to contribute to the climate crisis such as reducing air miles when transporting drugs and medical equipment.
To finish, we have learned that climate change plays a major role in physical health, mental health, and overall our world’s health. He highlighted the importance of things like recycling and reducing pollution as it is vital for maintaining a healthy and livable environment.
By Annabelle Coogans and Lisa Ashmore