Like the Coronavirus pandemic climate change is discussed as a global problem detrimental to all alike. Global problems, although may well be non-discriminatory, often end up reflecting the power divides that prevail within society. The disadvantaged are hit first and worst.
Be it race, class, gender, or another factor, there are revelations that the disadvantaged are disproportionately affected by climate change. One such sub-group is pregnant people. A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) tracked 32 million births across 68 studies, researching and linking pregnancy to the risk factors of excess heat and air pollution. The researchers found 87% of these studies showed subtle connections between childbirth related risks: preterm birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, and the above-mentioned risk factors associated with climate change.
The public health threats of climate change are well known and it has already been linked with cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses, mental health problems, and the spread of infectious diseases. However, the various ways in which the impact of climate change adversely affects pregnant people and the developing foetuses are only slowly becoming apparent.
The researchers found 87% of these studies showed subtle connections between childbirth related risks: preterm birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, and the above-mentioned risk factors associated with climate change.
Pollutants from automobiles, fossil fuel plants, and other sources contribute to smog and therefore lower air quality which can lead to respiratory illnesses. Microscopic air pollutants have the ability to go deep into the lungs – but they can also cross into the placenta, leading to inflammation which can lead to gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Particularly at-risk people identified within this group are those with asthma and women of colour.
Links between asthma and air pollution have long been established; couple that with a fragile state of pregnancy and unfortunately the risks are naturally heightened of something going wrong. Racism in healthcare is also something that is well known in society. From the heightened risks of contracting many diseases within minority ethnic communities, to the prejudice and bias that lead to suboptimal levels of care that people of colour may receive in healthcare settings. The data already show how women of colour have a higher maternal mortality rate. This can be attributed to the fact that social determinants of health such as poverty, long-term stress levels, and access to healthcare disproportionately hurt minority ethnic groups.
Excess heat is also something that was established to be a risk factor. Rising temperatures and humidity levels can lead to stress. Extreme heat can trigger reactions, ranging from dizziness to cardiac arrest, which can prove detrimental during a pregnancy. In recent news, India and Pakistan have been reeling under a heat wave since March which was the hottest it had been for over a 100 years in India. According to scientists, heatwaves in South Asia have been becoming harsher and more frequent with increasing climate change. With power outages, water supply problems, and public health issues, it is worth considering the impact this would be having on those pregnant and their developing foetuses.
These effects highlight the huge public health crisis that climate change is, but also that climate change is a detrimental health burden. For now, the work in the JAMA study concludes that climate change per se, amplifies the background risks associated with a pregnancy. The other factors crucial during a pregnancy such as access to nutritious food, access to clean drinking water, and safe shelter are all also put at risk by the declining health of our planet. The hurricanes, floods, storms, wildfires and so on that are made more frequent and intense by climate change also add to the list of risk factors that may lead to negative birth outcomes.
These effects highlight the huge public health crisis that climate change is, but also that climate change is a detrimental health burden.
As a society, we are increasingly waking up to how important our mental health is and the various ways in which mental health support facilities are crucial to a good public health system. One situation where this is tested is that of pregnancy. A pregnancy is a form of natural stress test. With it being a significant life event, it is natural to feel a lot of different emotions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if stress levels become worsened due to worries about one’s own future and the childs on a warming planet.