Direct and Indirect Effects of Climate Change: Responsibilities of Medical Community
Climate change has no longer been a just a thought only, it has become a reality now. We are living in the hottest times in the history of mankind and experiencing some of the most fearsome disasters like Tsunami. As inhabitants of nature, human health is directly related to change in the weather. The impacts of climate change upon human health have become a growing concern over the past few years.
The effects of climate change on health can be categorized as direct and indirect effects.
Increase in temperature and rise of heat waves; have been suppose to have significant health problems among people, especially among the people of poor and developing countries. Green house effect causes increased atmospheric temperature, frequent attacks of heat waves, increased duration of summer and winter with each of them causing health problems. Heat strokes are being reported more frequently, especially among the elders. Dehydration and various cardio respiratory problems are on a rise. Skin diseases become more prevalent. Skin cancers caused by the UV rays, thanks to the holes in the ozone layer, has become a growing concern. Heat waves in the year of 2003 caused a hike in the mortality and morbidity in Europe. It proved that developed countries are not immuned to the harmful effects of climate change.
Frequent visits of extreme weathers of topical storms, floods and cyclones, cause significant number of injuries and deaths. As a direct effect of climate change, extreme weather events are on a rise with greater magnitude and frequency. Traumas, food and water borne infections, sanitation issues, interrupted communication facilities, take a huge toll on human health.
Increase air pollutants due to climate change, posse great threat to human health. Increased ground ozone level can damage lung tissue, reduce lung function and inflame the airway, hence cause diseases like asthma and raise the incidence of respiratory tract infections. Recent studies have found that increased ozone exposure can be responsible for premature morbidity.
Increased incidents of wild fires due to hot and humid temperature, lead to burn injuries. Smog created from particulate matters, cause various respiratory problems. Increased pollens in the air due to high temperature cause allergic diseases.
Food borne diseases from bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli grows more in high temperature and cause cholera and diarrheal diseases. Water borne diseases due to floods and heavy rainfall favor increased incidence of Cryptosporidium and Giardia infections. Increase salinity of water also posses health risks.
Climate change also cause alteration in epidemiological distribution and breeding pattern of various insect vectors. Hot and humid temperature favors the breeding of larva of mosquitoes causing malaria and dengue. Recent studies found that there is an epidemiological shift in the distribution of ticks in North America due to increase temperature and humidity, leading to more frequent attacks of Lyme disease.
Droughts and frequent calamities cause reduction in food production and food security, which causes malnutrition, especially among children from the poor countries. Recent drought in South East Africa, which was the worst for a century, took a huge toll on Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. The availability of the sea food is also on a crisis situation due to global warming.
Role of Doctors:
Doctors can take a crucial part in mitigating and adopting the effect of climate change. Careful and planned interventions can significantly reduce the health effects. Vaccination programs, disease surveillance, disaster preparedness and emergency management, protective technologies, public health education programs, administrative monitoring and implementing laws can efficiently reduce the health impacts of climate change. And also doctors are on a central position in raising awareness among people about the harmful effect of climate change and to adopt an environment friendly lifestyle.
From the medical point of view, climate change can no longer be neglected. It’s creating health problems and will be more dangerous in the future. Medical professionals can do a lot in this regard. They can act both as a service person by reducing the health effects and administrative person in by adopting health and environment friendly policies. Everyone should remember that, if environment is safe, human being would also be safe.
About the author: Sheikh Mahmood Hasan Sagor is a medical intern at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is associated with Medical Students Association of Bangladesh (MSA-BD), where he heads the Climate Change and Health Wing. He can be reached at: [email protected].
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