Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Impact of Climate Change on Public Health

Doctors warn of the impending public health crisis brought on by climate change and call for action to help prepare the world for what is ahead.

CDC Climate Health Graphic (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is already having a noticeable impact on the environment and global health.  Around the world extreme weather events, increased temperatures, drought, and rising sea levels are all adversely affecting our ability to grow food, access clean water, and work safely outdoors.  Soon in some areas, the transformation will be so drastic and devastating that native populations will be displaced and forced to find new homes as environmental refugees.  In a review published in the Annals of Global Health, doctors warn of the impending public health crisis brought on by climate change and call for action to help prepare the world for what is ahead.

As we begin to experience an unprecedented shift in temperature, we are starting to see the immense impact climate change will have on people around the world, especially those living in low-income countries.  Bearing the brunt of the damage caused by climate change, low-income nations are especially susceptible because their economies often rely solely on agriculture and most do not possess the resources to ease the risks posed by climate events.

Low-income countries contribute just a tiny fraction of greenhouse gases (GHG), yet, they stand to lose the most if something is not done to curb emissions.  In 2004 the United States, Canada, and Australia approached 6 metric tons (mt) of GHG per capita, while per-capita GHG emissions in low-income countries was only 0.6 mt overall.

"As global temperature increases, rich countries' economies continue to prosper, but the economic growth of poor countries is seriously impaired," explained co-author Barry S. Levy, MD, MPH, Adjunct Professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine.  "The consequences for economic growth in poor countries will be substantial if we continue on a 'business-as-usual' path of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations and rapid climate change, with poor countries' mean annual growth rate decreasing from 3.2% to 2.6%."

The adverse health effects of climate change will be broad and will tax public health resources globally.  Vector-borne diseases, foodborne and waterborne illnesses, malnutrition, respiratory and allergic disorders, heat-related disorders, collective violence, and mental health problems will all likely increase due to climate change.  Already vulnerable populations including the poor, minority groups, women, children, and older people will face the greatest challenges brought on by climate-caused illness.  Malaria, Rift Valley fever, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus disease are spreading due to climate change.
Despite the evidence, many people remain substantially uninformed about the link between climate change and global health."

Public health problems resulting from climate change continue to increase, and yet, we are slow to react.  With the most vulnerable populations among us set to sustain the most damage, this review in the Annals of Global Health urges swift and decisive action to protect poor people, women, children, older people, and other vulnerable populations from the health consequences of climate change now and in the future.

Read more at Impact of Climate Change on Public Health

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