Small changes can mean big health solutions

8 August 2008

Henry Ko
Henry Ko

We shouldn't be emphasising expensive high tech vaccines and dazzling miracle drugs at the expense of more low tech ways improve people's health, particularly in the face of climate change, a young health researcher writes.

University of Sydney staff member Henry Ko has just been shortlisted in the Young Voices in Research for Health essay competition, a joint initiative of the Lancet and the Global Forum for Health Research.

"Forget the techno-cures of super-expensive, big-breakthrough vaccine or blockbuster drugs" says Ko, who wrote about the impact of climate change on the health of remote and rural communities in Australia.

"The effects of climate change and extreme weather patterns" will have as much, if not more, impact on people's health, particularly for those rural communities whose own well-being is closely tied to the well-being of the land in which they live.

"Rural and remote health services have been under-funded and under-resourced for long time and have not gotten the same attention that occurs in urban areas," says Ko, whose work involves weighing up the evidence of the effectiveness of different clinical treatments.

"In times of extreme weather conditions, an important rural service like the Australian Royal Flying Doctors Service may find it hard to reach people." One of his essay's recommendations is that electronic health, or e-health, could improve access of some health services.

"Even though it may not be a substitute for the flying doctors service, what telemedicine can do is bring some health services, such as doctor consultations, to isolated homes via satellite transmission."

His essay also talks about the need to "look into history for what really advanced humanity's healthy society - being able to pump in clean water and drain out and treat wastes from living areas."

He argues that relatively low tech technologies, such as recycling, water management, and wind power "could see remote and rural areas being able to reliably and sustainably generate energy for powering hospitals and medical clinics."

The theme of this year's essay competition was 'Climate change and health: research challenges for vulnerable populations'. The winners of the competition were announced today and listed on the Global Forum for Health Research website.

The short-listed and winning essays will be published in an anthology in October.

Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0434 606 100