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How climate change is making the world sick

2023-12-05 09:37:00, Blog CNA

How climate change is making the world sick

Heat stress. Lung damage from wildfire smoke. The spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes to new regions thanks to rising temperatures.

This week just some of the ways in which public health has been affected and worsened by climate change. For the first time, these have been in the spotlight at the annual United Nations (UN) climate summit, COP28.

Government ministers are expected to discuss ways to protect people from the health threats posed by climate change, which risk undoing decades of progress in public health.

By 2030, experts expect that just four of these threats - malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress - would increase the total number of deaths worldwide by 250,000 per year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). .

"Extreme weather events are becoming extreme health events," said Martin Edlund, chief executive of global health nonprofit Malaria No More.

Here's how climate change is harming people's health around the world today, and what countries can expect in the future.

Contagious diseases

Mosquitoes, which can carry viruses including dengue fever and malaria, West Nile and Zika, are moving into new parts of the world because warmer temperatures and torrential rains create more suitable conditions for them to breed.

Reported cases of dengue have increased from about half a million in 2000 to more than 5 million in 2019, according to the WHO.

This year alone, cases in Brazil are up 73 percent from the five-year average, Edlund said, with Bangladesh suffering a record outbreak of tropical fever.

Climate change is having an unpredictable impact on malaria, too, with 5 million more cases reported in 2022 than the previous year – bringing the total to 249 million, according to the WHO's World Report on Malaria.

Floods in Pakistan last year, for example, caused a 400 percent increase in malaria cases in the country, according to the report.

This disease has also spread to the high countries of Africa, which have been cold for mosquitoes in the past.

Two new malaria vaccines expected to be available next year offer some hope of combating the spread.

Polluted waters

Storms and floods caused by climate change are enabling other waterborne diseases to become more common.

After decades of progress against cholera, an intestinal infection spread by contaminated food and water, the number of cases is rising again, including in countries that had almost completely eradicated the disease.

Without treatment, cholera can cause death within hours.

In 2022, 44 countries reported cases of cholera, a 25 percent increase compared to 2021, according to the WHO, which highlighted the impact of cyclones, floods and droughts in disrupting access to clean water and harboring bacteria. to flourish.

Recent disease outbreaks have been much deadlier, too, with the death rate now the highest recorded in a decade, according to the WHO.

Diarrhea is also exacerbated by climate change. Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of 5, after pneumonia, killing more than half a million children each year.

Extreme heat and smoky skies

Heat stress – one of the clearest impacts of global warming – is projected to affect hundreds of millions of people as temperatures continue to rise in the coming decades.

Knowing that the world is about 1.1 degrees warmer now than the average pre-industrial temperature, in 2022 people experienced about 86 days of dangerously high temperatures on average, according to a report by the medical journal, Lancet, published last month.

If the world warms by 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the report says, then annual heat deaths could quadruple.

According to a study in the journal Nature Medicine in July, around 61,000 people died during European heat waves in the summer of 2022.

The heat has also made forests drier, causing huge fires across large parts of the world in recent years.

Knowing that the world is about 1.1 degrees warmer now than the average pre-industrial temperature, in 2022 people experienced about 86 days of dangerously high temperatures on average, according to a report by the medical journal, Lancet, published last month.

If the world warms by 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the report says, then annual heat deaths could quadruple.

According to a study in the journal Nature Medicine in July, around 61,000 people died during European heat waves in the summer of 2022.

The heat has also made the forests drier, causing large fires in large parts of the world in recent years./ REL

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