Human Health Affected by Climate Change

Compiled by Satyagraha Reporters

The month of April is commemorated as World Health Month incorporating National Polio Eradication Awareness Week from 6-12th April, World Health Day on the 7th, World Haemophilia Day on the 17th and Africa Malaria Day on the 25th.

"Protecting health from climate change" is the theme for World Health Day 2008. It was selected in recognition of climate change and the growing threats it poses to global public health security.

World Health Day marks the founding of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 7 April 1948. WHO is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing global health trends. World Health Day is celebrated annually since 1950 with the aim of creating an awareness of global health issues. Each year a theme is selected and a specific health issue is highlighted. WHO organizes international, regional and local events to draw attention to the selected theme.

Speaking on the occasion of World Health Day in Geneva, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said, “The core concern is that climate change endangers human health. The warming of the planet will be gradual, but the effects of extreme weather events, more storms, floods, droughts and heat waves, will be abrupt and acutely felt. It affects some of the most fundamental determinants of health: air, water, food, shelter and freedom from disease."

Numerous natural disasters, which are a result of climate change, have claimed the lives of thousands of people throughout the world in recent years. There have been more outbreaks of heavy rain storms and floods which disrupt people’s lives and bring about death and disease. While some parts are ravaged by storms, hurricanes and tornados others feel the impact of rising temperatures and hotter conditions, highlighting the extremities of climate change. It is estimated that the European Heat wave in 2003 had resulted in 70 000 more deaths than expected in that summer. In countries like Mozambique we see thousands of people being affected by severe floods and in South Africa we have seen serious damage to property and infrastructure along the Durban coast as a result of high sea levels.

Warmer temperatures have also created more favourable conditions for the rapid increase in mosquito populations. This has seen an escalation in malaria infections, particularly in the East African highlands. Africa Malaria Day is commemorated on 25 April, which has also been declared World Malaria Day by the world health assembly in May 2007, to highlight Africa’s struggle in containing the disease. Malaria is ranked as the third most infectious disease threat, behind tuberculosis (TB) and acute respiratory infections on the continent.

It is imperative that increasing efforts are made to respond to the health challenges of climate change. We spoke to people in South Africa who gave us their suggestions on how we can more effectively protect our health from the growing threat of climate change.

Melanie Naidoo a communications consultant says, “We need to protect the health interests of the poorest among us who are always the hardest hit by these disasters due to their vulnerability. I think we need to urgently identify vulnerable communities and develop strategies to address health concerns. People also need to be fed with knowledge on how they can protect themselves.”  Lucky Mthethwa a student says “Better health surveillance systems and stronger basic health services are required for prompt diagnosis and treatment. People in many communities in South Africa do not have access to basic health care and this is a matter of urgency.  Peter Grobler a self employed businessmen says, “My belief is that there needs to be concerted local and international action and cooperation across many sectors to raise awareness of health issues in order to curb the increasing health challenges of climate change.” 

If you have suggestions or views on the impact of climate change on health we encourage you to send them to us. 

*Additional information sourced from the World Health Organization (WHO)