Friday, September 2, 2011

Health Care Availability and Air Pollution Impacts

Air pollution and general practitioner access and utilization: A population based study in Sarnia, 'Chemical Valley', Ontario. (32 page pdf, Tor H Oiamo, Isaac N Luginaah, Dominic O Atari, and Kevin M Gorey, Environmental Health, Aug.9, 2011)

Today, we review some research into how (or if) access to medical attention affects the impact of air pollution on human health by examining the population of a fairly highly-polluted city in southern Ontario, not far from the industrialized areas of Chicago and Detroit. Although provision health care in Canada is not determined by ability to pay (unlike its country to its south for all but the elderly), income levels appear to have an impact on the quality of attention provided – one reason being that medical doctors tend to not have their offices or clinics in highly polluted areas of the city and this is where lower income groups live. The conclusion is that corrective action concerning access to health care plays an important role in reducing the impact of air pollution.

Key Quotes:

“While many of the studies have identified associations between air pollution and mortality or morbidity, few have focused on the role of health care as a potential moderator of impacts”

“lower socioeconomic status (SES) was associated with increased use of primary care and lower rates of specialist service utilization…existing literature indicates that people exposed to higher levels of air pollution are particularly vulnerable to the effects of inequitable access to primary health care”

“The Sarnia area is called ‘Chemical Valley’ as it is home to more than 40 per cent of all chemical processing facilities in Canada.. suffered 100 premature deaths, 270 hospital admissions, 920 emergency visits and 471 700 minor illness days due to air pollution in 2005 alone..The study participants reported having access to a GP [family doctor] at a rate of 92.8%”

“odour mediated mechanisms and annoyance contribute to how people judge and cope with air quality, and furthermore provide important diagnostic information in appraising the potential threats to health and well-being”

“residents in Sarnia who live in high exposure areas spend more time travelling and waiting for GP consultations. This may be due to primary care providers in Sarnia locating their practices in less polluted areas, thus leaving those in highly polluted areas to travel long distances to seek care”

“We conclude that some of these costs can be avoided by ensuring equitable access to primary care for residents most severely affected by air pollution”
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