HOW CLIMATE CHANGE IS MAKING US ILL

Climate change is much more than just an environmental issue. Beyond its effects on ecosystems and weather patterns, it is having a profound impact on human health.

Alex Emeka
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May 8, 2024
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3
min read

Climate change is much more than just an environmental issue. Beyond its effects on ecosystems and weather patterns, it is having a profound impact on human health. Alterations in temperature, precipitation, weather patterns and extreme events associated with climate change are exacerbating the risks of disease and ill-health across the globe. From the spread of infectious diseases to an increase in respiratory illnesses and mental health problems, climate change presents a multitude of challenges for public health. This article aims to explore the various ways in which climate change interacts with human health, highlighting the need for concerted policies and actions to mitigate these impacts and protect the health of the world's populations.

 

 Climate change has the potential to affect human health in a number of ways, contributing to the emergence or worsening of various diseases. Here are just a few examples:

 

1.         Infectious diseases: 

 

Diseases transmitted by vectors such as mosquitoes (such as malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile virus) may proliferate in new areas due to warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns.

 

2.         Respiratory diseases: 

 

Increased air pollution due to phenomena such as forest fires and rising ozone concentrations can aggravate respiratory problems and illnesses such as asthma.

 

3.         Heat-related illnesses: 

 More frequent and intense heatwaves can lead to heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as well as exacerbations of pre-existing illnesses.

 Heat-related illnesses are one of the most visible and worrying aspects of the impact of climate change on human health. Heat waves are becoming more frequent, more intense and of longer duration in many parts of the world, exposing people to an increased risk of heat-related illness.

 When temperatures rise above normal thresholds and persist for prolonged periods, this can lead to a range of health problems. Heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is characterised by symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, nausea and dizziness, and can occur when the body loses too much fluid and salt through perspiration without being sufficiently rehydrated. Heat stroke, on the other hand, is a serious medical emergency that occurs when the body fails to regulate its internal temperature, reaching dangerously high levels, which can lead to brain damage, organ damage and even death if not treated quickly.

 

 

Those most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses include infants, the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, people working outdoors and those living in urban areas where temperatures can be considerably higher due to the urban heat island effect.

 

Heat waves can also aggravate pre-existing health problems, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and increase the risk of dehydration, malaise and neurological disorders.

 

To mitigate the adverse effects of heatwaves on health, adaptation measures are essential. These include strategies such as; providing air-conditioned shelters, raising public awareness of the dangers of heat, setting up early warning systems and heatwave response plans, and urban planning to reduce heat islands and promote greenery and access to drinking water.

 

In short, heat-related illnesses represent a critical aspect of the impact of climate change on human health, requiring urgent action to protect the most vulnerable populations and adapt to changing climatic conditions.

 

4.         Water-related diseases : 

 

Extreme weather events such as floods can contaminate drinking water sources, leading to water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and intestinal infections.

 

5.         Food-related diseases: 

 Disruptions to food supply chains due to extreme weather events and changes in crop growing conditions can lead to food shortages and nutritional deficiencies.

 

6.         Mental illness: 

 Psychological stress and mental health problems may increase as a result of natural disasters, loss of livelihoods and uncertainty about the future linked to climate change.

 

7.         Cardiovascular disease: 

 Extreme weather conditions such as heat waves can place additional stress on the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.

 

These examples illustrate the complexity of the impacts of climate change on human health and underline the need to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change to protect public health.

 

In conclusion, the evidence is overwhelming: climate change is having a direct and often devastating impact on human health, with heat-related illness representing one of the many fronts in this battle. Faced with this reality, it is imperative that governments, local authorities and society as a whole take concrete action to mitigate the effects of climate change and protect the health of all.

 

This requires collective action at several levels. Firstly, policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energies must be strengthened and implemented ambitiously. Decision-makers must also take public health considerations into account in their climate change adaptation strategies, by investing in resilient infrastructures, health monitoring systems and awareness-raising programmes.

 

In addition, it is essential that civil society continues to exert pressure on governments and companies to assume their responsibilities in the fight against climate change. This can be done through actions such as taking part in events, lobbying political decision-makers, supporting local initiatives to combat climate change and promoting sustainable lifestyles.

 

Ultimately, protecting people's health and combating climate change are inextricably linked. By taking courageous and decisive action now, we can not only preserve the environment for future generations, but also ensure better health and a safer future for all.