By James Ochieng
A Lancet report finds that the rising temperatures, devastating impacts of heat waves and drought have increasingly led to more severe heat- related illnesses hence endangering more lives.
High temperatures being witnessed due to altered weather patterns also leads to more frequent extreme weather events putting years of progress on food and water security at risk in many parts of the world, the 2021 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: code red for a healthy future says.
According to the report, infectious disease zones are expanding with warmer seasons and temperatures creating an ideal condition for infectious disease transmission potentially undoing decades of progress to control diseases such as malaria, waterborne diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and chikungunya.
The report also states that those living in low and middle income countries bear the economic brunt of the climate crisis.
Notably, increased heat wave more so in sub-Saharan Africa has affected people’s ability to work in the open because it increases chances of getting heat related illnesses.
The report which was released prior to the start of the Glasgow Climate conference revealed that there are risks of new epidemics, infectious vector borne, air borne and water borne diseases that will spread to more regions of the world.
“These are grim warnings that for every day that we delay our response to climate change the situation gets more critical,” Marina Romanello, lead author of the report said.
“Climate change is here and were already seeing it damaging human health across the world,” Prof Anthony Costello, Executive Director of the Lancet countdown said.
For cholera, the environmental suitability for transmission has increased by 56% since the 1980s while the number of months suitable for malaria transmission has increased by 39% in highland areas of low income countries where the disease is endemic.
Diseases such as dengue and zika virus and chikungunya majorly affects populations in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Africa and south Asia. However while low income countries remain the most vulnerable, the epidemic risks for these diseases is increasing.
The report also warns that the environmental suitability for the transmission of emerging arboviruses (a group of viral infections transmitted to humans from a group of insects known as arthropods) such as dengue, chikungunya and zika has since increased by 13% since the 1950s.
Due to heat, areas with high temperature become more conducive to bacteria which produce gastroenteritis severe wound infections and sepsis, according to the report.
The high temperatures in 2020, a year labelled as one the hottest years on record, resulted in extreme health related impacts affecting the emotional and physical well-being of populations around the world.
Despite years of scientific reporting on the impacts of climate change, efforts to build resilience have been slow and an unequal, with many countries not putting measures to respond to the changing health profile being caused by climate change.
The report also stated that countries across the globe should implement policies to improve the funding of the health system.