Researchers learn more about climate impact

[2014-03-14] We need more knowledge about how climate change affects health. As part of an innovative aid project, groups of researchers in Umeå and Yogyakarta, Indonesia have thus created a broad interdisciplinary research platform. The project recently concluded with a major disaster simulation exercise.

Doing make-up on Hargomulyo villagers ahead of the disaster simulation exercise. Photo: Bot T Harjanto.

INDONESIA WITH ITS 18,000 or so islands has a lot to put up with in terms of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, not to mention climate-related problems in the form of torrential rainfall, major flooding and sudden drought.

With the predictions that climate change will create ever more extreme weather, the situation is expected to get worse. Here in Sweden we may also be affected by changes, e.g. if torrential rainfall becomes more common – something that will increase the risk of landslides and flooding.

IN SEPTEMBER 2012 a group of researchers from Epidemiology and Global Health at Umeå University together with Västerbotten County Council and the Faculty of Medicine of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia thus started a project involving work on bringing about a longterm reduction in the effects of the changes on health.

“Climate change is affecting and will affect people’s health in various ways, but it is a young area of research and we still have a lot to learn. Through this project we wish to disseminate knowledge about what we know so far regarding how climate change may affect us, and we want to prepare strategies for dealing with it,” says Maria Nilsson, a project manager and researcher from Epidemiology and Global Health.

AS PART OF THE PROJECT – which has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency – there has been an investigation into the situation in the two countries and the health service’s level of preparedness in preparation for climate change. The project has also included a study of telemedicine and e-health* as an approach in order to reduce the negative effects – in part to reduce the climate impact, e.g. through fewer car journeys, and in part so as to be able to reach patients in inaccessible or disaster-struck areas and provide specialist healthcare and rehabilitation.

Here in Västerbotten we have shown that use of telemedicine has major positive environmental effects, whilst retaining the treatment results. We think there’s great potential for telemedicine in Indonesia, bearing in mind the country’s geographical conditions,” says Åsa Holmner-Rocklöv, a researcher into telemedicine and e-health at the Centre for Medical Technology and Radiation Physics at Norrland University Hospital.

To achieve concrete results the project has focused on Gunung Kidul, a district with 700,000 inhabitants southeast of Yogyakarta. The area has a lot to put up with in terms of natural disasters – as well as dengue, a disease sensitive to climate.

THE PROJECT CONCLUDED in December 2013 with an international symposium at which the research group presented its findings. The lecturers included representatives from the World Health Organization in Indonesia, the Indonesian Ministry of Health and the telecommunications group Ericsson, as well as Swedish e-health experts.

Catastrophe simulation
Villagers, the police, the local disaster unit, primary healthcare, the district hospital and the army were amongst those involved in the disaster simulation exercise. Photo: Boy T Harjanto.

The unit for crisis management and preparedness of Sardjito Hospital – the regional hospital for Gadjah Mada and Yogyakarta – was included in the project. The unit started up after the tsunami in Banda Aceh in 2004 and the major earthquake in Yogyakarta in 2006. The unit is work- ing on plans for crisis preparedness locally and centrally, and regularly organises major disaster simulation exercises. The day after the symposium there was a simulation of a landslide in a small village in Gunung Kidul, involving the villagers, the local disaster unit, primary healthcare and the district hospital.

“The exercise will help bring about concrete improvements in the district’s preparedness plans,” says Maria Nilsson.

Even though the project has now been completed the collaboration continues. Two doctoral students from Gadjah Mada have been recruited to start Asia’s first research group focusing on climate change and health. A collaborative agreement has been concluded with Ericsson regard- ing technological development for e-health in Yogyakarta, and the Swedish-Indonesian research group has received funding from the Swedish Research Council’s Research Links in order to create conditions for continued research work together with Hanoi Medical University.

Another important result of the project is the creation of a broad Swedish/Indonesian platform of interdisciplinary expertise. The collaboration includes medicotechnical engineers, statisticians, nursing researchers, policy researchers, environmental-medicine specialists, epidemiologists and public-health researchers.

“Climate change and health is a complex area, and cross-sector work is necessary. There is also a need for many young researchers who can envisage a career in this field,” says Maria Nilsson. 

*E-health includes all forms of healthcare that utilise electronic processes and communication technologies such as the internet, email and telephony. Telemedicine forms part of the concept of ehealth, which entails utilisation of information and communication technology in order to offer remote care, and includes both expert telephone consultation and rehabilitation of patients at home using video conferencing.

Text: Camilla Andersson
Photo: Boy T Harjanto and Camilla Andersson

Editor: Michael Nordvall

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