Climate Change and Human Health
In the recent past, there has been a widespread consensus that the earth is warming at an unprecedented rate, faster than in the last century. The Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that today the Earth is ten times warmer than it was fifty years ago( Cann, Thomas, Salmon, Wyn-Jones, & Kay, 2013). Stress on the climate system has already caused an impact on the surface of the planet in terms of increased temperature, floods, drought, and changes in the ecosystems. Scientists in the 21st century insist on reducing greenhouse gas emissions which destroys the ozone layer and as such results in global warming (Levy & Patz, 2015). The accumulation of carbon dioxide, heat trapping gasses, and human made halocarbons in the lower atmosphere has resulted in the upward trend of average temperatures in the world.
The long-term health of the population is dependent on the continued stability of the planet’s life support systems. Major public health organizations across the globe have claimed that climatic change has immensely contributed to the increasing number and intensity of diseases by worsening the existing illnesses and introducing new pathogens to a number of regions. Climate change is seen to have effects on people’s social, mental, and physical well-being through extreme heat, respiratory diseases such as asthma, allergies, cancer, cardiovascular diseases associated with poor air quality, mental health and stress related disorders, water and food contamination related diseases (McMichael et al., 2003). Although the hazardous consequences of greenhouse gas emissions are well known, the global community has yet to come together in order to develop effective solutions to the health-related effects of climate change.
Heat-Related Illnesses and Mortality
The anticipated increase in the occurrence and severity of extreme weather results in heat waves, ice storms, avalanches, floods, and wildfires, hence increasing the risk of heat related illnesses, injuries, and deaths. Excessive heat caused by the destruction of the ozone layer is a great health hazard, resulting in illnesses such as skin cancer and heat cramps. Overexposure to excessive heat results in heat strokes, unconsciousness, and even death in severe circumstances (Levy & Patz, 2015). Extreme heat conditions have been recorded in certain parts of the globe with meteorologists warning people about the increasing rates of heat stroke cases.
Air and Vector-Borne Diseases
It is anticipated that incidences of air pollution will get more severe with climatic change. Certain aspects associated with the quality of air, ground level concentrations and airborne fine quality matter in particular, are reported to increase cases of respiratory illnesses and asthma. These infections mostly result from pollen due to the altered growing seasons, mold from flooding, dust from droughts, and smoke from wildfires. Vulnerability increases according to age, housing, and access to cool air.
Recent research by Brulle, Carmichael, and Jenkins has shown that climate change immensely influences disease transmission by shifting the seasonality of vectors and increasing the reproduction rates while reducing the incubation periods of pathogens. Some of the cited examples include the Lyme disease, which is an emerging disease in the United States resulting from a new breed of ticks. It can lead to skin rashes, disorders of the nervous system, and even debilitation and death. Another good example of vector borne diseases resulting from climate change is the West Nile virus and highland malaria; mosquito borne infections caused by drug resistant mosquitoes resulted in over 5000 deaths globally since the illness was discovered in 2002 (Brulle, Carmichael, & Jenkins, 2012).
Stress and Mental Health Disorders
Climatic changes and the subsequent disruptions of economic and environmental determinants of public health pose a challenge to human mental health and well-being. Extreme weather conditions, such as floods, avalanches, tornadoes, and floods, lead to the geographic displacement of people, destruction of property, and loss of lives. The effects of such circumstances are traumatic stress, chronic mental illnesses such as depression, drug and substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorders. Persons vulnerable to mental health illnesses are affected the most by such events. However, the severity of mental health and stress related disorders depends on the ability of victims to cope and the accessibility of support services during and after the events. Rural communities and the urban poor are more susceptible to these effects due to the limited availability of assistance (Levy & Patz, 2015).
Food Contamination and Water-Borne Diseases
The possible effects that climate change has on food and water-borne illness are mostly indirect, but nonetheless impact public health. Food-borne illnesses tend to prevail during the hot weather where there are changes in food preparation and consumption patterns that increase the risk of food decay and food borne diseases. Warm weather allows for the growth of bacteria, such as salmonella, that affect food safety. Extreme weather conditions such as floods, droughts, and wildfires affect crop production, availability of food, market and other related costs, resulting in food insecurity. Food insecurity directly affects human health, because it leads to poor nutrition, malnutrition, and chronic mental illnesses (Brulle, Carmichael, & Jenkins, 2012). The availability of safe drinking water has likewise become a global challenge. Human activities have resulted in water pollution, which is the main source of water-borne diseases. In addition, extreme weather conditions have resulted water sources drying up. That leads to a deficiency in clean water supply to homesteads. When these effects are coupled with poor water management and compromised water utility infrastructure, the risk of water-borne diseases increases. Contaminated food and water pose the highest challenge to public heath as they are the major causes of typhoid fever and cholera, which are killer diseases both in developed and developing countries.
Addressing Health Hazards Related to Climate Change
Climate change has become more prevalent, and so has the need for public health authorities to respond and deal with the existing and potential hazards. Though this is a challenging exercise, public health officials need to make an effort to prevent and adapt to current and possible threats to the population through increased awareness programs as well as participation in global initiatives aimed at reducing the emission of gases destroying the ozone layer. To successfully respond to climate change, stakeholders in the public health sector will need to draw upon the existing cores such as research, surveillance and monitoring, education and awareness, and emergency planning (McMichael et al., 2003). On one hand, these cores will require a multidisciplinary and multijurisdictional approach through sustained relationships and partnerships with governments, non-governmental organizations, and the global community at large to create a sustainable environment for future generations. Below are some of the measures that can be undertaken to address climatic change health hazards.
Mitigation and Building Sustainable Environments
Approaches aimed at mitigating climatic changes can help shield the atmosphere and consequently minimize various adverse health effects. Mitigating the effects og greenhouse gases would, to a large extent, reduce heat related morbidity and mortality. Creating a sustainable environment will require all stakeholders to help reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that destroy the ozone layer (McMichael et al., 2003). Creating a sustainable environment will encompass redesigning cities and roadways, especially in urban centers, as well as using alternative sources of energy that will reduce the emissions of carbons into the atmosphere. Public health officials should undertake the imitative to create awareness and educate the public on the hazards they are likely to encounter due to climate change.
Building Capacity and Adaptation to Climate Change
The ability of individuals to adapt to the current and expected changes in the environment influences the degree to which these changes will affect human health. Several factors are responsible for the way individuals manage to adapt to these changes, as well as their risk exposure. Such factors include age, income distribution, population growth, economic development, and access to health care services. These factors directly and indirectly affect public health and should be addressed through community based research initiatives which encourage innovation, strategic planning, and capacity building efforts to minimize their exposure. Additionally, more research should be conducted on how populations and communities remain vulnerable to climate change. These findings should be incorporated in decisions aimed at mitigating future risks (McMichaelet al., 2003).
Research considering the existence, future possibilities, and the extent of health hazards resulting from climate change should be the goal of international and national policy debates. The acknowledgment of the widespread health risks around the globe today should broaden these debates beyond the already existing impacts to include health effects. As the world urban population increases, all countries should come together and formulate policies aimed at protecting the environment from hazardous climate change effects and promoting public health to the entire world population without compromise.
Brulle, R. J., Carmichael, J., & Jenkins, J. C. (2012). Shifting public opinion on climate change: An empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010. Climate Change, 114, 169-188
Cann K. F., Thomas D. R., Salmon R. L., Wyn-Jones A. P., & Kay D. (2013, April). Extreme water-related weather events and waterborne disease. Epidemiology and Infection, 141(4), 671-686.
Levy, B., & Patz, J. (2015). Climate change and public health (1 ed.). New York, NY: Oxford New York Oxford University Press
McMichael, A. J., Campbell-Lendrum, D. H., Corvalan, C. F., Ebi, K. L., Githeko, A. K., Scheraga, J. D., & Woodward, A. (2003). Climate change and human helth: Risks and responses. Retrived from http://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/climchange.pdf