Dr. Courtney Howard, MD

The lines between humanitarianism, environmentalism and Planetary Health are blurring as the impacts of environmental change on human health become more clear and the need to respond to them more urgent.

I met Steve Cornish when he was the head of MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières–Doctors Without Borders) Canada and I was a doctor returning from an MSF-malnutrition project in Djibouti.  I had settled in the Canadian subarctic, and realized that some of my patients were already dealing with a world 3 degrees Celcius warmer than in the 1950s.  I went to an MSF Annual General Assembly, and asked how MSF was responding to the health impacts of climate change.  Steve was already an honorary board member for the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, so cared about the issues, but was surprised to have that question from the home crowd.  About 5 years later, he switched from his role as Executive Director of MSF-Canada to be the head of the David Suzuki Foundation…and work on the health impacts of climate change in earnest.

And I’m heading to the field with Health in Harmony (HIH) for a month with my family–having been recruited as a board member by Steve’s former deputy at MSF-Canada, Jonathan Jennings, who is now the head of HIH.  Health in Harmony is an American NGO which has partnered with an Indonesian NGO, ASRI, to provide affordable healthcare in Indonesian Borneo so locals don’t have to cut down the rainforest to sell wood to pay for healthcare.

Health in Harmony’s site has been open for 10 years, and there has been recovery in the rainforest.  It’s impossible to prove causation…but the concept is interesting enough for me to gather epi pens, bedside ultrasound textbooks, resuscitation textbooks and bug jackets, and travel with my family from Yellowknife to Borneo to do some clinical teaching and explore this Planetary-health-in-the-field concept in person.

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