Climate change risks
Do you remember the night that more than 600 residents of Xiaolin Village (小林) were buried alive when Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan? The typhoon season is around the corner. Are you prepared?
Climate change has been declared as a public health emergency and associated with various diseases, including mental illness, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The government must extend the coverage of the national health insurance to people who have suffered in a climate change event to mitigate the health disparity.
Ten years have passed and people have forgotten about Morakot, but climate change has strengthened typhoons with higher rainfall. More frequent and intense extreme weather events are expected to continue impacting our communities, especially people who have lower capacity to cope.
For example, whenever typhoon holidays are declared by the government, no one living in urban areas make preparations, instead they enjoy a day off.
Conversely, people living in rural areas often have to be evacuated.
Doctors in rural communities serve about twice as many people as physicians in the rest of Taiwan. Life expectancy in these regions is shorter than the national average.
The government should improve healthcare for relocated communities by amending national health insurance regulations.
Climate-related effects are forcing the relocation of rural communities, presenting challenges associated with maintaining cultural, livelihood and healthcare continuity. Mental illness has been associated with community relocation.
Moreover, because of limited budgets, relocation often leads to overcrowding and poor housing quality, which further deteriorates their health.
However, the healthcare of relocated communities is mainly covered by scarce community health centers and home visits on a monthly basis.
Despite people in rural areas paying the same health insurance premiums as urban residents, there are no specialists to provide care for mental illness, not to mention help with maternity and child care.
The government plays an important role by either subsidizing specialist care or establishing a telemedicine consultation system to increase the quality of care.
Many people suggest that the health impact of relocation would be relieved by building a public hospital near relocated communities. However, a well-equipped hospital is not a silver bullet against the consequences of climate change.
For instance, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Louisiana, the hospitals were completely flooded along with everyone else, losing all power.
Healthcare providers should create a dynamic network, including home visits and mobile healthcare units, to specialist services accessible and affordable after natural disasters.
Risks from climate change depend on decisions made today. The government should not wait another 10 years. No part of Taiwan will be unaffected.
People need to engage with the government to prioritize healthcare for the most vulnerable populations. Make a telephone call to your legislators to show your concern for a better healthcare system to fight against climate change.
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