Premature Births, Pediatric Asthma, COVID-19 Deaths: Climate Reality Leadership Training Thesis
July 28, 2020
I graduated today. Truly graduated from the Climate Reality Leaderhip Corp. The program wanted to virtually issue me my certificate on Sunday, but I wanted to finish the last two modules/projects before I claimed the certificate. It was a very important exercise to me, and I’m glad I did it. The funny thing is that this short project, which I call my “thesis,” is probably a million times more impactful than my actual senior thesis on cleft palate and degeneracy theory in college. I spent one entire year working on that one, which probably only 5 people ever really read. So here is the long more illustrative title, “Climate Change Affects My Patients: More premature births, more pediatric asthma, and more COVID-19 deaths especially of my patient’s parents and their grandparents causing more grief, despair and health inequities in already overburdened communities of color in the South Bay of San Diego.”
This exercise is an opportunity to understand how climate change is transforming my area and what solutions are available to turn the tide of the crisis.
I am a pediatric asthma doctor. As Assistant Chief of Pediatrics at HMO San Diego, I am responsible for all Pediatric Quality Measures which includes Pediatric Asthma Control. I also am a general pediatrician, and I take care of patients in the south bay of San Diego that has increased risk of premature births and higher mortality rates from COVID-19. The three climate change impacts to the area I practice pediatrics is (1) higher rates of more severe pediatric asthma (2) higher pre-term birth rates and therefore the secondary consequences of premature birth and (3) higher rates of COVID-19 infections and mortality among the patient area that I serve.
The evidence that supports this is a recent study from Wu et al. “Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: A nationwide cross-sectional study” just published showed that “people exposed to PM 2.5 are more vulnerable to COVID and have higher rates of mortality if they get COVID.” Also from Tran et al “Residential Proximity to Oil and Gas Development and Birth Outcomes in California: A Retrospective Cohort Study of 2006–2015 Births.” High-risk asthmatic rates are well known and established to be higher in more polluted areas that are often the homes of communities of color.
The expected outcome if we fail to curb greenhouse gas emissions in higher asthma rates, higher premature deaths due to asthma and higher premature births. These changes are measured in patient asthma rates, premature birth rates, and COVID-19 infectivity and deaths. This is especially true in communities of color
My solutions is to (1) Advocate for California Senate Bill AB 365 which is a bill that “creates health and safety buffer zones by requiring a minimum setback distance between dangerous and hazardous oil and gas extraction wells and homes, schools, daycares, playgrounds, hospitals, and health clinics. The passage of AB 345 will bring us closer to protecting children and families from the hazards of living near dangerous oil and gas sites.” I will personally lobby California State Senator Ben Hueso’s who represents the district where many of my patients live, and I will highlight this effort at our AAP Climate Change and Health San Diego Chapter 3 meeting tonight, which includes pediatricians who care for patients in his district (Imperial Beach, San Diego and Chula Vista). (2) Highlight these medical realities in my work as one of the Pediatric Asthma Committee to bring awareness to our sometimes mundane asthma work (3) Mentor a current pediatric resident and climate change and health premed intern regarding this advocacy work through sponsoring journal clubs and other projects.
And that is it. That is my thesis. Now I have earned by “Green Ring!” Dr. Plastic Picker is a super hero, with a Green Ring.