Maureen Salamon

October 31, 2017

ATLANTA — The effect of climate change on health outcomes and healthcare systems will dominate sessions at the upcoming American Public Health Association (APHA) 2017 Annual Meeting.

Dr Georges Benjamin

The theme of the conference — Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health — is underscored by the string of recent hurricanes affecting the United States and other places around the world, said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD.

"The impact of global warming on infectious disease will be relevant," he said, especially for "physicians practicing in areas where the weather is warming up and they're not necessarily used to seeing these vector-borne diseases in abundance, such as West Nile, Zika, and dengue."

A presentation looking at emergency preparedness from a climate perspective will be especially topical, and not just for obvious reasons, Dr Benjamin told Medscape Medical News.

"When a hurricane hits, everyone is focused on the impact on a hospital system," he explained, "but at the end of the day, the big impact is on practicing clinicians and their offices."

An example of this is the damage done to the primary care network in Houston, where major flooding followed Hurricane Harvey in August. "Rebuilding that is going to be difficult," he said.

When a hurricane hits, everyone's focused on the impact on a hospital system, but at the end of the day, the big impact is on practicing clinicians and their offices.

Plenaries will also focus on climate change, from a primer explaining the phenomenon to a session on how hospitals and health systems are reducing their individual carbon footprints, Dr Benjamin said.

Dr Padmini Murthy

The plan is to look at the impact climate change will have on "global health — whether related to policies, communities, or health outcomes," Padmini Murthy, MD, from New York Medical College in Valhalla, who is the APHA program planner for international health

Dr Murthy added that she is looking forward to spending time with meeting attendees who hail from dozens of countries and approach public health problems in unique ways.

"It reiterates the fact that people are working in different ways to promote health, some of which are successful and can be replicated," she told Medscape Medical News.

Other public health topics — ranging from opioid addiction to gun violence, healthcare equity, tobacco, and vaccines — will be addressed in presentations, roundtables, poster sessions, and panel discussions.

And a global public health film festival will be airing documentaries and short clips that highlight topics such as the environmental impact of coal mining, sex trafficking, cyber bullying, and the harms of pornography.

APHA Live, a new feature this year, will allow viewers from around the world to attend some sessions virtually, and to earn continuing education credit while doing so.

Dr Isis Mikhail

"APHA is taking advantage of technology to provide the option of virtual meeting attendance live and on demand," said Isis Mikhail, MD, DrPH, from the National Institute on Aging, who is the APHA program planner for aging and public health.

"This is a great advantage, particularly for public health professionals who are unable to attend the meeting," Dr Mikhail told Medscape Medical News.

Meanwhile, those who travel to Atlanta can take advantage of Learning Institutes, half- or full-day courses that offer an interactive educational experience. Topics covered will include leadership in complex public health systems, population health and the future of healthcare, and public health law.

And attendees wanting to take a mental or physical break can visit the Wellness Center, which will offer activities such as yoga, games, meditation, stretching, and massages.

The APHA engages in a "public policy process" in each city in which it holds its annual meeting. Despite attempts to become a smoke-free city, Atlanta has fallen short of this goal, Dr Benjamin reported, so the APHA has drafted a letter to local officials, urging them to complete the transition.

Dr Benjamin, Dr Murthy, and Dr Mikhail have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Follow Medscape on Twitter @Medscape and Maureen Salamon @maureensalamon

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