Debilitating Effects of Climate Change on Healthcare Managament

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
2. Cancer
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.

Silence is not an option.

Traveling food

The drive up to Soller from Palma isn’t too long, but tracing through the Mallorcan mountains made for a windy ride. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to being in a James Bond film, cruising through the Mediterranean with the mountains on the right, ocean on the left.

We parked the car and did a quick walk through the town, which was lined with oranges that had at least one leaf attached to each golden orb. The orange and lemon trees were everywhere – backyards, streets and groves, all leading up to the ferrocarril line to Port de Sóller. The magical tram ride brought us to a bright blue cove against a backdrop of Mallorca’s green hills. It was stunning.

I pulled out an orange from my bag, knowing for sure that this was a moment worth remembering. I knew that the orange I was peeling was probably the best I will ever have in my life. I tried to memorize every note my taste buds were sending to my brain as each pulp burst in my mouth.

We took a couple oranges for our travels, and it was only a matter of two days that the pores started growing little mouldy dots. The best food does not travel well and is most magical when set against the backdrop of its natural habitat.

Until the next time I visit Soller, that will have been the first and last time I have ever eaten an orange.

With spring comes thoughts of food (stories)

For the last 3 years or so, this time of year has conjured up promises of an abundance that many Vancouverites don’t often get to experience first-hand. Had I the proper skills, experience, and business savvy, I might consider myself an urban farmer; but lacking that connectedness to the act of growing food as a direct part of my livelihood, I can only claim to be an accidental gardener with a penchant for heirloom tomatoes.

As a gardener in this neighbourhood, I am not very unique. I am flanked by fig trees grown by elders of Italian origin and forests of gai lan manicured by a Chinese grandfather. I inherited a portion of my current gardening space from a Vietnamese family who took some of their celery root and spring onions with them, and the 20-year-old rhubarb that covers a good portion of one of my garden beds was generously donated by a Polish lady who lives several blocks away. It seems like your typical smorgasbord of gardeners and perhaps it is: in a very basic way, we are all contributing to our own food security (ie. by growing our own food).

But I’m often left wondering: what more can be done? It’s no doubt satisfying to take, from just outside my front door, the spoils of my collaborative effort with nature and certainly there are many organizations in Vancouver who believe strong food systems are an integral part of the city. The city’s Social Planning committee has been actively gathering feedback for the development of a citywide Food Strategy and increasingly, people are beginning to investigate and report on the lesser-known aspects of our regional food system. Rangi Changi Roots very much encourages everyone to get involved in these efforts. In the weeks to come, we’ll be sharing more opportunities that we feel will connect the threads of the ‘unheard’ stories around food in our city.

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