Dr Scott Abbinga is a committed volunteer with Healthy Futures, heading up our Physicians group. He also is an infectious disease registrar currently working at Monash Health in Melbourne and has recently treated a patient with Japanese Encephalitis, highlighting his previously-held concerns with climate change and the impact on health.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am an infectious disease registrar working in Melbourne on Bunwurrung land. In my spare time I like travel, hiking with friends and podcasting with MedConversations.
2. When did you first become concerned about climate change and why?
For years I have been increasingly worried about climate change, but hiding inside from the summer of smog in the catastrophic 2019/2020 fires showed me what climate breakdown looked like, and the total absence of any political response to them made me realize that people need to take action into our own hands because our government and institutions are not protecting us. So I got involved in healthy futures - working with likeminded people and being a small part of the solution honestly helped me feel better about the future. Our influence (among many other allies) can already be seen in HESTA decarbonizing or AGLs recent failed demerger - I’m always open if anyone wants to chat more about it!
3. What or who has inspired you?
In my work as an infectious disease doctor I cared for a patient in Melbourne who died of Japanese Encephalitis. This is a tropical disease, with only a handful of cases previously reported in far north Queensland and near Darwin. There is no medication that treats it. in 2020 there are 5 deaths so far in South Australia, Victoria, NSW and Queensland. It really helped me understand that no one is safe from the unpredictable effects that climate change will have - as increased humidity and temperatures spread mosquito borne diseases over the globe.
As doctors we are taught to treat the disease and not just the symptoms. We cannot protect the health or our patients or community without climate justice, and that is why I am taking time away from my medical work to contribute to healthy futures.
4. What is your vision for the future?
An Australia where we protect our future, where all people have the democratic right to protest and influence decisions, first nations people have the right to protect and use their land and science and experts inform policy. I know that seems pretty utopian right now!
5. What is the role of individuals?
What any individual can do is limited, but when we work together we can achieve great things. I think healthy futures actions are incredibly impactful because people know that we are healthcare workers trying to follow the evidence and protect our communities.
6. What do you do with Healthy Futures? What would you like to achieve?
I am working with other doctors and healthcare workers who are seeing the harmful effects of climate change from floods and fires to infectious on our patients. We are realizing it is not enough to just inform yourself and publish research or technical reports - we need to raise awareness and activate our community to make demands of our institutions before it is too late.