Climate impacts on health: most nations yet to evolve policy plans

Greater focus on preventative public health measures could ease pressure on health services and provide a more supportive environment for achieving universal health coverage, says WHO

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Wednesday 27 August 2014


That change in climate impacts human health is something most experts acknowledge now. But climate’s impact on policy making is yet to be seen.

Climate change has begun affecting human health in a number of ways, for instance, by altering the geographic range and seasonality of certain infectious diseases, disturbing food-producing ecosystems, and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events (see infographic). However, its data-base analysis and mitigation programme is still to be chalked out.


To address this problem, the World Health Organization (WHO) is organising a three-day conference beginning Wednesday which is aimed to bring experts from health, climate and sustainable development together. The conference is aims to empower communities to enhance their resilience and protect their health from climate change, identify the health benefits associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and support health-promoting climate change policies.

Climate disruption can compromise health security through extreme weather events and infectious disease outbreaks. Air pollution increases the burden of non-communicable diseases. A greater focus on preventative public health measures could ease pressure on health services and provide a more supportive environment for achieving universal health coverage, says WHO.

Last week, journal Nature published an important new study carried out by scientists of Oxford University, in which they examined changes in the global distribution of malaria over the past century. The findings suggest that during the past 100 years, the protective effects of socio-economic development and disease control have been significantly greater than the transmission-enhancing effects of increasing temperature. The study analyzed the effect of climate and other factors on long-term trends in malaria transmission over smaller areas.

The latest report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also highlighted the impact of climate change and health and recommends simple measures such as provision of clean water, sanitation and vaccination to mitigate climate change impacts on human health.

Recently, more than 500 delegates from 62 countries have issued a call to act urgently to address the impact of climate change on the health of humans and animals as well.

 On August 15, these delegates working through the International Association for Ecology and Health (IAEH), have developed a vision and commitment to action that will bring together what is already being done to address the challenge of climate change. Focus on the health of humans, animals and other species that crosses disciplines, is needed, these experts said. 

In his statement, IAEH president Jakob Zinsstag said, "Whether people acknowledge it or not, climate and other global environmental changes are already affecting our health through extreme weather events, newly emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases such as dengue and Ebola, and heart and respiratory problems linked to toxins in the environment." (See ‘Ecohealth meet raises alarm over climate change impacts on health’ 

In the past few years, India has also seen natural disasters, emergence and spreading of diseases like Japanese encephalitis and dengue, though these diseases have not been looked at from the perspective of climate change. WHO conclusions at the end of the conference and recommendations may prompt India and other local governments to chalk out policy which can mitigate the adverse health impacts of climate change.


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