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How climate change influences the spread of disease – four essential reads

Climate Change - photo
Climate Change - photo

Climate change has led to extreme weather events such as floods and drought. These events have become more frequent and more severe. Natural disasters associated with climate change have a devastating effect on people’s lives, destroying homes, roads and others key infrastructure.

They also put people at risk of injury and death, and alter the prevalence and distribution of illnesses and infectious diseases.

Over the years, health and climate researchers have written important articles for The Conversation Africa highlighting the links between climate change and diseases in people. Many have also proposed solutions. We’ve pulled together four essential reads.

Impacts of climate on everyday life

Most people don’t experience extreme weather events like floods. But record peaks in temperature have an impact on everyday life in subtle ways. Inequalities drive these impacts. People who are poor are already vulnerable to ill health and malnutrition.

Medical anthropologist Lenore Manderson explains how changes in weather patterns have knock-on effects on health. For instance, changes in water supply can affect commercial food and subsistence production. This in turn affects food security and the price of food. Diet affects health.

Read more: How global warming is adding to the health risks of poor people

The health problems associated with climate change need a whole-of-society solution. Many diseases are related to inadequate water availability. Researchers and officials have to work closely together to improve basic service delivery and fill knowledge gaps.

Manderson argues that experts in social, biological and physical sciences as well as the humanities and arts need to come up with ways to interrupt disease transmission in the context of global warming.

Read more: Climate change, water and the spread of diseases: connecting the dots differently

Impacts on infectious disease

It’s difficult to predict where droughts will happen. But research suggests that some areas of Africa are likely to see more intense and longer droughts.

Infectious diseases such as cholera are linked to droughts. People in displacement camps and those living in settings with poor sanitation are most at risk of the illness.

Researcher Gina Charnley argues that the most effective way to reduce the impacts of drought and resultant cholera outbreaks is to alleviate population vulnerabilities before the hazard occurs.

Read more: Droughts create fertile ground for cholera. Plans are needed to face more dry periods

As climate change increases the risk of epidemics and disease outbreaks, it is up to government authorities to provide the services needed to prevent and treat infectious diseases – especially in vulnerable communities.

Medical entomologist Andrew Githeko warns that weak public health institutions at the frontline of disease outbreaks are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Policy responses should be expanded to include other stakeholders, increased capacity to evaluate risk and adequate resources.


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