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Five Reasons Donald Trump Is A Health Hazard

12/07/2017 17:20
BasSlabbers via Getty Images

When Donald Trump tries to sneak in to the UK, be careful! This is a president that should come with a health warning. Here's five ways Trump is bad for public health around the world.

Making climate change worse

Climate change has been described - in the Lancet - as the "biggest public health challenge in the 21st century." Globally, climate change will lead to increased malnutrition, hunger, water shortages, and an increase in preventable illnesses like malaria and diarrhoea, as well as an increase in extreme weather events, which displace people and destroy livelihoods. Yet Trump denies climate change exists. He has packed his administration with the fossil fuel lobby and climate change deniers, and pulled money from environmental agencies. He has ramped up fracking. (Although it is always worth remembering that even Rex Tillerson opposes fracking if it happens in his own backyard.)

Worst of all, Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate change agreement. This is not just a dereliction of duty; it's a declaration of war on the health of seven billion people.

Lowering food standards

If, or when, the UK government attempts to strike a trade deal with Trump, it's likely to lead to a massive lowering of food, health and safety regulations that are designed to protect and promote public health. When the EU and US recently tried to negotiate a trade deal, TTIP, the EU's unwillingness to compromise its relatively high food and farming standards was one of the main reasons the negotiations to come to a standstill: one person's health and safety standard is another's trade barrier. But trade is fundamentally about power, and whilst the EU was able to stand its ground, the UK is unlikely to be able to stand up to the power of US multinationals which will be desperate to see UK agriculture 'opened up', so that they can export hormone treated beef, chlorine washed chicken and GM crops. All of this will force British farmers to lower their standards so that they can compete. Farmers in the UK are worried, and rightly so. These standards are there to protect public health: you are what you eat after all.

Attacking women's rights

On his first day in office, Trump signed the global gag rule, decimating funding for family planning and maternal health projects. A version of this rule has been implemented by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan, but Trump's goes much further than any previous rules, effectively stopping any health funding, by any department - not just international family planning funding - going to NGOs that are thought to be 'promoting' abortion. That makes its financial implications '14-16 times' worse than previous versions of the rule. But it probably won't have desired effect. Eliminating access to contraception will result in more unintended pregnancies and more back street abortions. This is exactly what happened last time the gag rule was implemented.

Because of the extent of the ban, it could also threaten progress on HIV, TB and malaria as well, as all of this is closely linked to family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Worst of all though, Trump could be setting a dangerous example by legitimising attacks on women's rights, which are vital for women's health. Campaigners in Central America have warned that it will fuel to the conservative backlash in the region, which has already seen women and girls being denied abortions even if they have been raped.

Privatising the NHS

Here in the UK, a future trade deal with Trump could threaten our most loved institution, which provides health care to all people regardless of their ability to pay. Of course, for this reason alone there are plenty of people in the UK who would like to see the back of it - not least the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who wrote a book about privatising the NHS. That fact helps explain why the UK government is unlikely to make a serious attempt to protect the NHS in a trade deal with the US, just as they refused to use the tools open to them to meaningfully protect the NHS in the now stalled TTIP negotiations. This will mean that the UK's healthcare 'market' will be open for business for US companies. If we want to keep and improve a public NHS, we need to oppose Trump-ed up trade deals.

Ramping up the failed War on Drugs

Strict drug laws have unintended health consequences. Criminalising drug users, and the stigma attached to drug use, make it harder for people to access medical care or social services, or get a job. And the lack of controls on drug strength and purity, due to prohibition, increases the rates of overdoses and means that drug injection is frequently done with unsterile equipment, increasing infectious diseases.

But it's not just users that are affected. The wider population also suffer, as strict drug laws tend to restrict access to even essential drugs and medicines. So when opium/heroin is illegal, this can make morphine hard to get for those in severe pain, particularly in the global south. And when producers' crops get destroyed as part of the 'war on drugs', farmers find themselves poorer than they already were and unable to afford food or healthcare.

Unfortunately, Trump is all set to escalate the failed war on drugs. He wants to be 'ruthless' towards drug users at home whilst escalating the militarisation of the war on drugs abroad. At the same time, Trump is reducing the amount of money being spent on development in the global south. This is exactly the opposite of the general consensus on where drug policy needs to go. Indeed, many countries (and US states) have been moving towards decriminalisation, regulation and pro-development approaches, fed up with the cycle of poverty and violence that the war on drugs had created. But this (slow) progress is all being cast aside in Trump's bid to be the next big man on campus.

You have been warned!

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