In response to the devastating bushfire season of 2019/20 the Academy has developed several outputs addressing the health issues associated with the impacts of bushfires and smoke exposure. Our work aims to outline what is known and unknown around the short-, medium- and long-term impacts on physical and mental health.

Australia is likely to see higher frequency and severity of such events over the coming decades, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Bureau of Meteorology. Areas of uncertainty around health impacts need to be addressed – through research – so that Australia is equipped to recover from the 2019/20 season and to deal with the health impacts in this future scenario. Targeted advice and plans are needed for vulnerable groups, such as those with pre-existing conditions, elderly, infants, children, pregnant women, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. The Academy has developed several outputs to address these issues. 

We continue to pursue policy impacts on this important topic and are progressing work on the broader health impacts of climate change. 

Evidence summary

The Academy has developed an evidence summary which was informed by input from Fellows, Associate Members and external experts, who came from fields such as respiratory health, mental health, maternal and child health, public health, and burns. This included through a virtual roundtable in early February.

The document addresses the following areas:

  • Bushfire smoke and respiratory issues
  • Mental health
  • Impacts on vulnerable groups and health inequalities
  • Other contaminants and issues (including exposure to toxins)
  • Eye health
  • Water/food
  • Burns and heat stress

You can also read a news story about this publication and download it below. This evidence summary has informed our other outputs, including the submissions outlined below. 

Joint briefing with the Australian Academy of Science

The Academy has published a joint briefing with the Australian Academy of Science which explores the long-term health impacts of the Australian bushfires on human health. The briefing, ‘After the bushfires: addressing the health impacts’, explores health challenges caused by bushfire smoke or the direct impact of the fires on communities. The briefing also highlights how challenges including the exposure to air pollutants, strain on mental health, heat stress, as well as other health impacts need to be better understood. Read more about the joint briefing in our news item

Response to the Senate Inquiry into the ‘Lessons learned from the bushfire season 2019/2020’

The Academy responded to the Senate Finance and Administration Standing Committee inquiry into the “Lessons learned from the bushfire season 2019/2020”. Our response focused on the physical and mental health impacts of the bushfires including those on firefighters and volunteers and the general population. Our submission can be downloaded below. In July, the Academy was invited to give evidence to the public hearing for the Senate Inquiry and was represented by Professor Stephen Duckett FAHMS. Read more about the Academy’s participation in the public hearing in our news item

Submission to the Royal Commission

The Academy also submitted a response to the consultation by the Royal Commission into the National Natural Disaster Arrangements. We highlight the importance of considering a health perspective in the response to and the recovery from the health risks of bushfire impacts and smoke exposure to firefighters, volunteers and the general population. In May, the Academy was invited to provide evidence to the hearing for the Royal Commission and was represented by Professor Stephen Duckett FAHMS. 

These outputs can all be downloaded below. 

Image credit: European Space Agency