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After Covid-19

Medical world urges G20 leaders to make Covid-19 recovery 'green'

A healthcare worker holds a sign reading "14% of healthcare workers in Madrid are infected" during a protest calling for a reinforced healthcare system outside the Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid on May 25, 2020
A healthcare worker holds a sign reading "14% of healthcare workers in Madrid are infected" during a protest calling for a reinforced healthcare system outside the Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid on May 25, 2020 AFP - PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

More than 200 organisations representing 40 million health workers have signed an open letter to G20 leaders urging them to ensure a recovery from the coronavirus crisis that tackles both climate change and economic growth.

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As lockdowns around the world begin to ease, medical professionals have urged political leaders not to forget the lessons learned from the coronavirus, emphasising that a new trajectory is needed.

"We have witnessed first-hand how fragile communities can be when their health, food security and freedom to work are interrupted by a common threat," doctors and medical professionals from around the globe wrote in an open letter to G20 leaders on Tuesday.

They point to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed nearly 350,000 lives worldwide since the start of the year and disproportionately affected poorer communities and those living in cities with high levels of air pollution.

Health professionals argue that many of these consequences could have been avoided had governments been better prepared.

Their age-old adage that prevention is better than cure is equally true of climate change, which they warn must be tackled to prevent future diseases being unleashed upon vulnerable populations.

Pollution in crosshairs

"Before Covid-19, air pollution was already weakening our bodies," the World Medical Association, the International Council of Nurses, the World Organization of Family Doctors and two hundred other groups said.

"A truly healthy economy will not allow pollution to continue to cloud the air we breathe and the water we drink," the letter continued.

They say public health systems should be strengthened, and want governments to attach stern conditions to their "enormous investments," prioritizing sectors that embed healthcare and the environment at their core.

Promoting the hashtag #HealthyRecovery, the appeal called on world leaders to end the hundreds of billions of dollars in public subsidies for oil, gas and coal, the main drivers of both global warming and air pollution, which causes some seven million premature deaths each year according to the World Health Organisation.

Healthy people, healthy planet

Scrapping fossil fuel subsidies would cut greenhouse gas emissions and help spur economic growth of nearly $100tn in the next three decades, the signatories claim, suggesting the money could be used to invest in better cycle lanes and electric vehicle charging stations.

The appeal also underscored the need to boost renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, which they say would make for cleaner air.

"Health professionals are at the frontlines of this emergency, and we are seeing the immense loss of lives because of acting too late," said Miguel Jorge, the president of the World Medical Association.

At the beginning of May, the International Council of Nurses reported that at least 90,000 nurses worldwide -- possibly twice as many -- had caught Covid-19.

Hundreds of health professionals have died, including many during the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, the pandemic's epicenter.

"Healthy lives depend on a healthy planet," Jorge added. "We need a comprehensive approach, a healthy and green recovery, and we need it now."

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