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The climate crisis is also a health crisis, asserts the World Health Organization (WHO) which has chosen ‘Our Planet, Our Theme’ as the theme for the World Health Day 2022. According to estimates, over 13 millions deaths around the world are a result of avoidable environmental causes. No wonder then that factors contributing to climate change and the impact of climate change on health are both coming matters of grave concern to the world at large.
Dr Radhika Banka, Consultant Pulmonologist at P.D Hinduja Hospital & MRC, Mahim, Mumbai, says, “Climate change is potentially the biggest global health threat in the 21st century to human mankind and is expected to affect the health of billions of people in the next few decades.”
She points out how Svante Arrhenius, the famous Swedish Nobel Laureate, had predicted in as early as 1896 that human activity could substantially warm the earth by adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. It is predicted that Earth’s average temperature rises are likely to exceed the safe threshold of 1.5 -2 degree celsius by this century and this is expected to have catastrophic effects. Clearly, we aren’t doing enough to save the planet.
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Dr Banka touches upon this subject on the occasion of World Health Day, for HealthShots.
Climate change is increasing the risk to humans and the distribution of many infectious diseases that are vector borne, water borne or food borne and these mainly include malaria, dengue and cholera. Global warming has made conditions more suitable for transmission of these infectious diseases. By 2080, about 6 billion people will be at risk of contracting dengue fever as a consequence of climate change, compared with 3·5 billion people if the climate remained
unchanged. Various tick-borne and parasitic diseases diseases such as Schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Lyme borreliosis, tick-borne encephalitis, and hantavirus infections are predicted to increase as a result of climate change.
Climate change is expected to compound the issue of food insecurity leading to increased incidence of chronic undernutrition. From 1981 to 2019, maize, wheat, rice and soybean crop yield has shown a consistently downward trend and it is estimated that the number of undernourished people will increase to more than 840 million by 2030.
Climate change also predisposes to an increased risk of common respiratory illnesses such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and respiratory infections such as tuberculosis. With extreme temperatures, increasing outdoor and indoor air pollution and change in allergens, rise in respiratory illnesses is expected over the next few decades.
Climate change may also impact non communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. It may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease either directly via air pollution and extreme temperatures or indirectly via poor nutrition. Global cancer burden is expected to rise due to air pollution, exposure to ultraviolet radiation and environmental toxins.
There is a strong link between mental disorders and natural disasters. Impact of climate change on mental health can be immediate during natural calamities or can be long-term due to forced migration or deforestation. All these events affect the mental health of a population, with the appearance of psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, increased suicide rate and substance use, as well as increased aggressive behaviour.
In order to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change, immediate actions are needed, involving individuals, organisations, societies, governments and lastly a consolidated global effort. Use of sustained renewable energy such as wind and solar; development of eco-cities, reducing remissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices and empowering and improving health care infrastructure in the lower economic countries is the need
of the hour.