Ride For Their Lives – why Newcastle doctors are taking to their bikes for the rights of local children to breathe clean air.
<<Ahead of the launch of Newcastle’s Clean Air Zone, paediatrician Dr Heather Lambert, who recently retired from her work treating Newcastle’s children, explains why it matters so much to highlight – and fight – the invisible killer. Please contact Heather if you’d like to join the ride on Saturday 28 January – more info on the Ride here and link to RFTL website here.>>
As a paediatrician, I have always been interested in the social determinants of disease, and we know that air pollution is one of the major threats to our children’s health. Children are affected by air pollution even before they are born, with increased rates of miscarriage, premature delivery and low birth weight. Air pollution, for which the causes are similar to some of the drivers of climate change, is associated with increased rates of childhood asthma.
Those living in the most deprived areas suffer the worse air pollution. The air children breathe is not equal. Surely the right to breathe clean air is a basic human right?
The climate crisis is a health crisis. About 36,000 deaths each year in England are attributable to air pollution, which is connected to serious conditions like asthma, strokes, lung and heart disease.
In 2021, an inquest report was published. The coroner, investigating the death of a nine-year-old girl in London from asthma listed air pollution on her death certificate as cause of death. This was the first time this had happened and it has immense significance. In addition, UK organisations including medical professionals were criticised for not drawing attention to the risks of air pollution to her health.
Ride For Their Lives (RFTL) started in 2021 to bring health care professionals together to publicise and deliver “The Climate Change Prescription” – a letter signed by organisations representing 45 million health care workers calling for stronger action on climate by the COP26 negotiators. This letter was cycled from the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva to London, where it was handed to a group of paediatricians, other health workers and patients. In turn, they cycled it - now carefully protected in a blue satchel on which messages to politicians were written by child patients - in relay over 800 kilometres to deliver it to COP26 negotiators in Glasgow.
In 2022, Rides For Their Lives have taken place throughout Europe and in North and South America, facilitating conversations and exchanges of ideas. The longest ride took the blue satchel containing the WHO report “The Health Argument for Climate Action” as well as documents relating to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and climate change inequality from London via Geneva to Naples in Italy, before it was given to WHO to deliver to COP27 negotiators in Egypt (a destination just too far for the cyclists!)
We know solutions to the climate crisis include reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and that bicycles, along with walking and other forms of active travel are part of the solution. That is why I and other Newcastle doctors are celebrating the introduction of a Clean Air Zone.
Ride For Their Lives challenges healthcare voices to focus in three main areas where they can make a difference:
Improve sustainability in their work place. Health care is a major contributor to climate change and should improve and lead by example. Educate and update health curricula and provide training and support to health workers to discuss the climate emergency with their colleagues and patients.
Advocate - enable health professionals to effectively communicate and advocate on climate change and health to decision and policy makers.