Een kritische pen die de medische actualiteiten onder de loep neemt.

Climate change; What the health?

So, how is climate change related to health?

These weeks an IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) delegation of five people (consisting of members from IMCC Denmark, IFMSA – The Netherlands, FMS Taiwan, MSI India) is present at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The questions we did receive most were "How is health related to climate change?" or sometimes more aggressively "What are you even doing here?" So, how is climate change related to health?

Climate change is the most pressing health issue of the 21st century (Lancet Commission). Every year thousands of people are killed by extreme weather events, while the physical and psychological health of millions is undermined. Droughts influence the availability of nutrition and clean water resources. Cyclones, floods and other extreme events can trigger outbreaks of infectious disease or damage health infrastructure leaving whole communities without proper healthcare access. Thus, climate change affects our natural systems, migration, food systems, economy, poverty, and so on, which are all social or economic determinants of health. The consequences of climate change can be seen in almost every aspect of health; under-nutrition, allergies, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, direct physical injuries and an increased spreading of infectious diseases. (WHO)

As an example; think about infectious diseases as malaria, diarrhoea, meningitis and dengue fever. These kind of diseases take a heavy toll on population around the world, while their virulence is largely sensitive to climate conditions. Temperature, precipitation and humidity can influence their vectors’ reproduction, survival, life cycles and even biting rates and so raising transmission. Public health communities have made incredible process in tackling these diseases in the past decades, but this progress might become overshadowed by the current climate changes. This results in an increased virulence of several infectious diseases, spreading even more illness and death if we don’t act now. (WHO)

On a positive note; in a more recent report the Lancet Commission stated that tackling climate change is the greatest global health opportunity we have. Especially since action on climate change will not only have a direct impact on the quality of human life, but will also be accompanied by important co-benefits. For example, stimulating active transport and sustainable food choices will reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, while clean energy can reduce respiratory disease and infant mortality. (Lancet Commission)

Yet in current climate negotiations, health is still being treated as peripheral despite its overarching relevance to many central issues. Health is poorly represented in the Paris agreement and in the discussion about the implementation of the agreement in Morocco and Bonn so far, making it an issue of great urgency.

Are you still wondering how health is related to climate change?

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Kim van Daalen 15 mei 2017489Blog IFMSA-NL