Climate change is affecting every aspect of human life-global warming is scaring people worldwide due to melting glaciers, the unpassionate heat of the sun takes a toll on many people’s lives and above all these, children are said to bear 88% of the burden of the diseases due to climate change (according to research).
In today’s date, there is substantial increase in the number of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, etc.) due to demographic, social, technological and other changes along with climate changes as well. We talk about infectious diseases and climate changes now, but our ancestors were smarter than us. As early as the nineteenth century, humans linked epidemic diseases with climatic conditions. Roman aristocrats settled in hilly resorts during every summer to avoid malarial infections and South Asians used strong spices while cooking as they believed that strongly curried foods reduced the chances of diarrhea. Also, malaria is considered to be the vector-borne disease most sensitive to long-term climate change and the link between malaria and extreme climatic events has long been studied in India. Some years back, the river-irrigated Punjab region was attacked by a series of periodic malaria epidemics and the constant rainfall and water presence proved to be advantageous for the breeding of mosquitoes.
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A study shows that death due to diarrhea, malaria and nutritional deficiencies among children younger than 5 accounts for 38%, 65% and 48% of all global deaths (as per 2015 statistics). Climate change includes changes in temperature, precipitate, wind and sunshine that have a long-lasting impact on the survival, reproduction or distribution of disease pathogens and hosts. Changing climatic conditions have greater impact on many types of infectious diseases (including vector-borne, air-borne, food-borne and water-borne).
Climate variations also affect the interaction between humans and hosts, such as seasonal occupation, migration and winter-summer changes, which in turn affect disease transmission. During heavy rainfall, deer and mice enter human dwellings in search of food resulting in transmission of hantavirus to humans that can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).
Vector-borne Disease: Malaria
Most of the common infectious diseases, particularly those spread by insects, greatly depend on climate variation. Infectious diseases such as salmonellosis, cholera and giardiasis are on the rise due to flooding and vagaries in temperature. Globally, hurricane Katrina, Harvey and Irma are solid proofs for climate change-related weather events that affect children’s health along with newly emerging infectious pathogens such as the Zika virus. Zika is again a mosquito-borne infection due to climate instability. Zika infection during pregnancy can lead to microcephaly where the newborn’s head is smaller than expected and the brain has not developed properly. Sadly, the most-affected individuals are children whose condition can never be reversed. Read more on Zika virus and its effects at www.firsteatright.com.
Water-borne Disease: Diarrhea
Constantly increasing temperatures are another cause for increasing waterborne bacterial infections that cause diarrhea. World Health Organization projects an addition death of 48,000 children who are younger than 15 years of age by 2030 without further climate change due to diarrhea. There is a negative association between rainfall and diarrhea rates in children under the age of 5, which points to the increased use of unprotected water sources and decreased hygiene practices when water is scarce. The world today provides a bleak picture on available water resources due to global warming and water scarcity is already an important issue on the global front. It is sure to become even more severe and broader resulting in increasing number of diarrhea cases worldwide.
WHO projects an additional 95000 deaths due to childhood undernutrition by 2030. Unpredictable weather changes and extreme temperatures damage crops impacting food production and supply:
When it comes to natural calamities like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes our hands are tied and we cannot take much preventive actions. But, climate change-induced health effects can be alleviated by taking proactive measures from our end. Diseases such as malaria are prominent in developing countries such as Africa and India but not contained within these regions. Developed countries must join hands with such developing countries to reduce the impact of climate change-induced health risks.
Children suffer the most due to these climate changes as they spend a considerable period of time playing outdoors any time of the year. We need quicker and better efforts in addressing climate changes to safeguard our children and maintain their good health.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.