Over the last century, we have consistently undergone many environmentally unfriendly practises, such as burning fossil fuels, which has resulted in detrimental levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases present in our atmosphere.
As a result, more heat is being trapped around the Earth, warming our planet by roughly 0.85oC. Scientists have observed that each of the last three decades have grown warmer than any other since 1850. We have since seen rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and unusual occurrences in precipitation patterns. Soon, certain at risk regions can expect to experience unclean air, unsafe drinking water, and a lack of access to food or appropriate shelter. It is from these effects on the social and environmental determinants of health that, between 2030 and 2050, it is estimated that an additional 250 000 deaths will occur per year, due to malnutrition, diarrhoea, heat stress and malaria.
In this blog, Team Med explore how climate change will affect global health.
Rising Heat Levels
With rising global temperatures, diseases and afflictions caused by extreme levels of heat are bound to increase. Cardiovascular and respiratory disease in the elderly, for example, will be more prevalent, as seen in the 2003 summer heatwave experienced in Europe, where more than 70 000 excess deaths occurred. This could be due to the increased amount of ozone and other pollutants in the air, brought about by high temperatures. Similarly, pollen and other aeroallergens in the air also increase with the heat, which can trigger asthma in many, and worsen the conditions of those already suffering from it.
In the last 50 years, natural, weather-related disasters have more than tripled. Tens of thousands of people die as a result, primarily those living in developing countries. As climate change takes more of a grip on our planet, the rising sea levels and extreme weather events will destroy vast amounts of homes, communities, and essential service locations. A staggering amount of people will be forced to move, as it stands now with over 50% of the global population living within 60km of the ocean. This relocation creates invariable amounts of situations that raise the risk of adverse health effects, such as mental health issues and communicable diseases.
Variable Rainfall Patterns
Rainfall patterns are also likely to be affected by climate change. Fresh water will become a more scarce resource, leading to people desperately drinking from any water source they find, which could prove unhygienic. This can cause ailments such as diarrhoeal disease, which currently kills over 500 000 children under the age of five every year. Eventually, vast amounts of communities could experience long periods of drought and famine.
Amazingly, floods are also becoming more extreme and recurrent. Floods have the potential to contaminate water supplies, spread water-borne diseases, cause drownings and injuries, destroy buildings, and make it difficult for medical and health services to deliver care to those in need.
Changing climate conditions will have a profound effect on water-borne diseases, and those diseases transmitted through insects and other animals. They will also effect the timeframe of the transmission season in which these vector-borne diseases alter to suit new geographical areas.
Those Most at Risk
While everyone across the planet will be affected in some way by climate change, there will of course be those communities more at risk than others. Those who dwell in small islands and coastal regions will naturally be at risk of the devastation from rising sea levels. People living in megacities and remote regions, however, will also have to contend with their own issues, should they have weaker health infrastructures that cannot combat the demands of the new climate.
What to Do
It seems almost inevitable that we will soon have to brave the increased temperatures. However, it is not too late to minimise the adverse effects it will have on our way of life. To make environmentally friendly changes to how you travel, consume energy, and even eat can all work towards curbing rising temperatures, and ensure better health for the global population.