Why poorer people suffer more from climate change

climate change kids 2019

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Lincy Gonçalves Trevizan de Castro, a 22 years old medical student at the third year of studies. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The climate changes can be understood as variations in environmental temperature (either naturally or under human action). By the end of this century, Earth’s average temperature should rise by 1,8 to 4 Celsius degrees. These modifications in the planet’s climate dynamics have changed not only the relationship of humans to nature and the factors that affect their lives, but the way diseases spread – and their relationship to death.

These changes in the climate generate impacts not only in nature itself, but also on the health of living beings. It is believed, however, that malady are exacerbated by climate changes, but that they were pre-existing before environmental factors cold have any effect on them (synergistic effect). Among the main diseases that are aggravated by climatic changes, we can highlight those of propagation by water, those transmitted by vectors and those that covers the respiratory system.

With the change of the terrestrial biogeochemical cycles, the impact on the health of the living being soccurs both directly (floods, heat waves and sliding of slopes) and indirectly (increase in the number of precipitations, which favors the spread of infectious diseases). This propagation, however, depends not only on climate changes, but on vulnerability variables.

Some social and physiological factors (age, housing conditions, preconditions oh health and access to health services) have a direct impact on how and individual or a group will respond to environmental influences – and generally the poorest are the most disadvantaged, because they do not have adequate medical and social conditions.

An example of the truthfulness of this claim is that of the main peak of malaria incidence: a tropical disease, but which had its highest number of victims during the Ice Age og the Middle Ages. Although it is a predominantly hot climate, the poor hygiene and sanitation conditions of the time were essential for such high levels of infection to occur, and the cold climate did not interfere greatly in order  to stop the spread of it.

The same is true in modern times: the poorest people, with the worst health care and poor access to health, regardless of the climate they live in, are the ones who most feel the impacts of climate changes (mainly due to the lack of assistance).

In Brazil, in consonance, the poorest places are the ones that suffer most from malaria. In the 1970s, this was a disease that hit the country almost evenly. At present, however, the Amazonas is the state that is most affected by this malady (its HDI is one of the worts of the country, occupying the 21st position).

Waterborne illnesses, following the same perspective, are also influenced by climate changes, but finds in basic sanitation the key to their control. In view of the above, it is evident that climate changes is of unique importance when it comes to the health-disease process of human beings. Investing in quality of life, however, plays a crucial role in disease, especially in vulnerable and resource poor populations.

About the author

Lincy Gonçalves Trevizan de Castro is  a 22 years old medical student studying now the third year and with increasing interest in vulnerable populations. In 2018, she created a project that seeks to assist street people with food, clothing, health care and personal care products. Aware of how much social differences can affect the health-disease process of the entire population, she seeks to study ways to mitigate the impacts of poverty and lack of access to services on collective health.

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