Code OB: Urgent action on climate and toxic chemicals needed

The problem:

Atmospheric rivers in California. Deadly snow in New York. Devastating floods in Pakistan. Drought and famine in Africa. The fallout from climate change is here and no one is immune.  

And this crisis, driven by fossil fuel use, is seriously affecting women’s health, pregnancy, and reproductive care, physicians and scientists say.

Special issue on climate and women’s health

Today the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics published a special issue exploring how climate change can adversely impact women’s health, how the OBGYN field can reduce its own impact on climate while also better supporting patients.

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics has been a leader in encouraging women’s health care providers to address the climate crisis, which many are already seeing having an impact on their patients. Women and pregnant people face “extreme heat, flooding, and drought that have been shown to increase risks to maternal and child health,” the organization says.

In an editorial introducing the special issue, the physicians and scientists say they are particularly concerned that:

the climate crisis will exacerbate existing adverse health consequences and will be inequitably distributed across both low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) and women.”

Disproportionate burden

“For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, droughts in 2010–2019 have tripled compared to 1970–79. Extreme weather events that cause flooding and other ecological changes have led to increases in communicable diseases, which are more prevalent in LMIC. Even in higher-wealth countries, such as the US, analyses show lower-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in areas that will be disproportionately affected by climate change effects.”


The group calls for “immediate actions to address the climate crisis” and urge the health care community to play a lead role. For example, reforming “production, maintenance, use, and disposal” of medical devices that are “contributing to greenhouse gas emissions”; changing use of “anesthetic gases and the propellants in multi-dose inhalers, both of which can have potent greenhouse gas effects”; and rethinking “production, use, and disposal” of care ranging from “menstrual products” to “cancer treatments.” 

The healthcare community has a unique position to advocate on behalf of patients. Given the commitment to reducing harm and improving health, the healthcare industry is ethically obligated to address the climate crisis and can be a powerful advocate for systemic solutions, which include public policies to reduce global reliance on fossil fuel consumption and other activities that result in greenhouse gas emissions.”

To read the full special issue:

To read the editorial: