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Climate Change Driving Need for Better Emergency Preparedness

July 29, 2020

The Yale Center on Climate Change and Health (YCCCH) matches Yale students with a limited number of summer internships related to climate change research and practice. These valuable hands-on learning opportunities are available to Yale School of Public Health students pursuing a master’s degree in public health and students from across Yale who are already serving as Student Associates at the Center due to their interest in climate change and health. Selected students can apply for funding support to cover expenses through either the Center itself or other sources.

This year’s summer interns are wrapping up their work. They are the first cohort to participate in the internship program since the YCCCH opened in the Yale School of Public Health in January 2020 as an extension of the Yale Climate Change and Health Initiative. The three students recently took a moment out of their busy schedules to share their stories, which we are highlighting this week.

Student: Zoe Novic

Internship: Equity Research and Innovation Center, Yale School of Medicine

When Zoe Novic became a student associate with the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health, she had plenty of advocacy and grassroots organizing experience, having worked for an international animal advocacy organization called The Human League.

In joining the Center, Novic, a Master of Public Health student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health, was hoping to gain new skills in qualitive research and implementation science. She found the perfect opportunity this summer when she was chosen for an internship with Dr. Saria Hassan at the Yale School of Medicine’s Equity Research and Innovation Center (ERIC).

Hassan’s research focuses on reducing morbidity and mortality after natural disasters among people with non-communicable diseases, particularly those living in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

When a disaster such as a major hurricane strikes, the immediate concern is for the injured and those whose lives are threatened as a result of the catastrophe. But there is often a second wave of casualties that doesn’t get as much attention. These are individuals with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases whose health and well-being can be put in jeopardy by a strained and damaged public health infrastructure. Research has shown that up to a third of post-disaster mortalities are due to people suffering complications of non-communicable diseases.

Hassan and colleagues at the ERIC are researching ways to reduce these negative health outcomes by helping hospitals in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands implement more effective disaster preparedness plans. One of the primary missions of the ERIC is to improve the health of vulnerable populations both domestic and global.

“A key component of my internship this summer is writing a systemic literature review about global emergency preparedness plans,” said Novic. “I am collecting data about various frameworks for emergency preparedness and will produce a literature review about successes and barriers to implementing preparedness programs.”

With forecasters predicting an unusually active hurricane season in the Caribbean this year, the work has never been more important. In addition to concerns about climate change causing more severe storms, many Caribbean islands are suffering an economic downturn this year due to a reduction in tourism as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This could complicate plans for disaster preparedness and recovery. Social distancing measures could also impact shelter use and availability.

“Climate change and climate disasters disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations,” Novic said. “I applied for this internship because in my future career I hope to create positive, effective change for humans, animals and the planet.”

As part of her internship, Novic is gathering information to determine which health centers in the United States and U.S. Territories have implemented new emergency preparedness guidelines issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and what barriers may be hindering hospitals’ ability to comply.

More information on the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health’s Summer Internship program can be found on the Center’s website.

Submitted by Colin Poitras on July 27, 2020