by Jeanna Carter
While climate change has always been one of the primary concerns in conservation programs, however the cataclysmic changes are now causing concerns among healthcare management colleges. Patterns of pandemic illnesses after natural disasters have managed to make many bad situations much worse and much more enduring.
In 2010, the year a catastrophic magnitude-7 earthquake devastated Haiti, that country reported 179,379 cases of cholera. By comparison, the United States reported 15 cases that year, all imported. The United Kingdom reported eight. Ireland, Israel and Italy were among the many countries reporting no cholera cases at all.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. It is not at all an unexpected disease in a country reporting more than 200,000 deaths from an earthquake. Drawing a line connecting the disease with the earthquake is easy. More difficult is linking the earthquake to climate change.
Many scientists believe that the warming of the planet is largely responsible not only for devastating droughts and floods around the world, but also destructive tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes. As documented in Haiti, storms and changed weather patterns can have profound effects on disease outbreak and control. Examples like this are prompting scientists to broaden their understanding of climate change and what it means to human health worldwide.
Most climate change specialists agree that global warming is affecting far more than just weather patterns and storm systems. Public health in developing countries is taking a turn for the worse that is strikingly proportional to shifts in climate and temperature, many say. They connect the dots this way: Masses of ice are melting in Greenland and Antarctica. Sea levels rise as a result of the ice melting.
This results in changes in precipitation, meaning drought in some areas, flooding in others. In droughts, people become weak and more susceptible to infection. In floods, water-borne illnesses can travel much faster, and high humidity tends to aid in disease incubation and virus reproduction. Heat waves and more intense storms and hurricanes may also result, causing still more carnage and possibilities for health catastrophe. On top of this, exploding populations and more manufacturing creates poorer air quality to begin with–which only complicates matters.
A National Institutes of Health report on climate changes highlights 11 human health categories affected by a climate shifts:
1. Asthma, respiratory allergies, and airway diseases
3. Cardiovascular disease and stroke
4. Foodborne disease and nutrition
5. Heat-related morbidity and mortality
6. Human developmental effects
7. Mental health and stress-related disorders
8. Neurological diseases and disorders
9. Vector borne and zoonotic diseases
10. Waterborne diseases
11. Weather-related morbidity and mortality
Many current studies about climate change focus on diseases and disasters in developing countries. Studying human health is far more involved than studying weather patterns, as it is complicated by the complexities of politics and cultures, the differences within and between regions of the world, and the ability of stable governments to adapt quickly to potential threats. In the United States, for example, the effects of climate change vary from region to region. Also, the passage of time often gives the perception that a weather pattern has fixed itself. Heavy rainfall tends to only last in one place for a short while, for instance. Heat waves might hit Northern California one year and Chicago the next.
Still, scientists focusing on the United States note that the heat accompanying droughts is more intense today than in the past. The modern-day drought also lasts longer than ever before, affecting agriculture and creating other health-related issues. Experts point to life-threatening flooding during storms and the increasing intensity and devastation of tornadoes and hurricanes as support.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2007 that climate-related health impacts will increase globally during this century. Countries with developed health care might be masking the true effects, however. Good health care is essential to preventing massive outbreaks or epidemics, but it can only treat the symptoms–not cure the cause. Says the Intergovernmental Panel, “the quality of medical care and public health systems in the United States may lessen climate impacts on human health.” Just because direct results cannot always be seen does not mean that the changes are any less real, however.