COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis

09/20/2020
Pictured is CHA primary care physician and climate advocate Gaurab Basu, MD, MPH.

The last few months managing COVID-19 in the community at Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) has been a raw experience for Dr. Gaurab Basu. “We have seen suffering firsthand and it's made me reconnect with my I chose health care as a profession,” said Dr. Basu. “I went into medicine because I wanted to be a part of a community that takes care of people. And we’ve never needed that kind of community more than today."

Dr. Basu is a member of CHA’s COVID-19 Community Management Team who follows suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients throughout their illness. The goal is to keep patients out of the hospital while continuing to address patients’ acute and chronic needs. For Dr. Basu, the critical piece has been the follow-up calls and touchpoints with patients who are socially isolated. “We are able to reach out to people during an important moment in their lives and have the opportunity to help them navigate this complicated time,” said Dr. Basu. “We offer clinical care but also a personal human connection by letting patients know that someone cares about them.”

The Center for Health Equity Education & Advocacy

Gaurab Basu, MD, MPH, is a primary care physician at CHA Somerville Campus and co-director of the Center for Health Equity Education & Advocacy (CHEEA) at CHA. CHA primary care physician Danny McCormick, MD, MPH co-directs CHEEA with Dr. Basu. Dr. Basu joined CHA in 2010 as an internal medicine resident, serves as an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, and sees patients in Somerville, Massachusetts.

CHEEA was launched in 2019 and is focused on equipping medical professionals with knowledge about health inequities and the skills to advocate for systemic change. “We want to give providers the opportunity to speak up and voice their concerns, whether it be fear about immigration policies or unfair housing practices,” said Dr. Basu. “Healthcare is a human right and everyone deserves access to high-quality and safe care.

CHEEA delivers educational programs for CHA staff and other Boston medical professionals. Learners include students, trainees, and practitioners. The voices of the community guide topics to be addressed and CHEEA also serves as a center for scholarship and research on interprofessional health equity education and advocacy. Soon dozens of providers from across the country will come together virtually at the Center through a new Health Equity Scholars Program that will provide a new generation of medical professionals the tools to advocate for positive change in their communities and health institutions.

The Intersection of Climate Change and COVID-19

Dr. Basu’s background is grounded in a deep interest in climate change and global health. “We don't spend enough time talking about the impacts climate change has globally,” said Dr. Basu. “We are seeing a significant increase in natural disasters, forced migration, flooding, and drought. This can impact the stability of our communities and sometimes even worsen political conflict.”. He has advocated for urgent action to address climate change in Massachusetts specifically.

COVID-19 has exacerbated deep structural inequalities already present in society. “There is a clear intersection between COVID-19 and climate change that is impacting communities of color across the country,” said Dr. Basu. “When people are exposed to chronic air pollution and then contract COVID-19, they are 8% more likely to die than people who haven’t had that exposure.” Some of the hardest-hit communities in Massachusetts, like Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Lowell, and Brockton are low-income communities of color that also have been on the frontline of the devastating impacts of environmental injustice.

Furthermore, protecting our environment is one of the best things we can do to mitigate the risks of another global pandemic. “The destruction of biodiversity and deforestation is bringing animals and humans closer together, increasing the risk of other zoonotic diseases spilling over from animals to the human population,” said Dr. Basu.

“We are living through extraordinarily challenging times that are disorienting and scary,” said. Dr. Basu. “There are devastating hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and drought, all in the midst of the pandemic. We all play a role in standing up for science, in building a compassionate society, and looking after one another at this moment in history.” Learn more about the CHEEA at CHA and some of Dr. Basu’s recent work.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.