Climate change: what’s that got to do with health?

A lot it seems. But what exactly do we mean by climate change? Climate change as defined by the Met office is ‘ a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather patterns or average temperatures.’ One of the most important and worrying aspects of the changes in our climate is its detrimental affects on health. The psychological, social, and physical health of people is predicted to take affect in a largely negative way.

Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, our industrialised lifestyles, and our overt consumption of meat has released significant quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The latter has resulted in an increase in the overall temperature. So much so that the overall temperature of the world has increased by 0.85oC.

Other direct and indirect effects of the rise in global temperature is; poor air quality, polluted water systems, decreased vegetation and insecure shelters. All of these changes affects our health in some way or another.

Between 2030 and 2050, the WHO predicts that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrohea, dehydration, and heat stress.

This seemingly small, but massively significant increase in temperature affects everything. For instance, rising sea levels and extreme weather will likely destroy homes, medical facilities, and essential services. Consequently, forcing people to leave and migrate away from their homes, which in turn heightens the risk of mental health disorders to communicable diseases.

An increase in temperature will also increase the incidence of infection. For example, water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold blooded animals will likely increase. The incubation period for these diseases will persist for longer periods of time. Malaria and Dengue fever is highly sensitive to climate conditions. Current studies conclude that climate change will continue to increase the exposure of dengue.

Extreme heat is predicted to bring about an increase in cardiovascular and respiratory disease, especially among the most vulnerable in our societies; the elderly, disabled and very young.

Variable or the reduction in rainfall levels affects the supply of fresh water: a lack of fresh water affects hygiene, which in turn increases the incidence of diarroheal diseases. While in extreme cases, water leads to drought and famine.

A current example is Cape Town where the water levels are approaching day Zero: the taps will be switched off on April 12th, making it the first modern city to completely run out of fresh water. It is, as Davos in Switzerland states: “a climate change disaster”.

Who is at risk of these detrimental effects of climate change? All populations it seems, but it will particularly affect those who are most vulnerable, such as people living in small islands, young children under 5 years of age, and those of us who are living in countries with a weak health infrastructure

 All doom and gloom?

Perhaps, however it is still possible to slow down these affects, in particular those of us living in counties that have a more developed health infrastructure, paying attention to the small, significant changes we can make to our everyday lifestyles. Reducing our transport uses, reducing our meat consumption, contributing to recycling products, and being prepared to forgo some of our excess consumerism all will contribute to this. But is this the top of our priorities?

The WHO has endorsed a work plan focusing on climate change and health, much of that it seems to be focused on us as individuals and policy change makers to raise awareness and in shared partnership goals. To read more, see https://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/

Are we doing enough? Or do we know enough about how climate change affects our health?- Leave a comment, would love to hear your thoughts!

Maiya Ahmed, Director






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