Climate changes and the imminent public health crises

climate change 2019 ice

(Lucas Marcomini, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Sarah Laís Silva de Freitas, a second year medical student at Federal University of Campina Grande, Brazil. 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.


When we think about climate change, it is very easy to link the environmental consequences, their effects on the ocean and animals. Indeed this line of reasoning hides human responsibility in this problem, as well as distancing its consequences from our reality – even though the human being is widely discussed as a bio-psycho-social being.

In this context, there is an imminent health crisis in several aspects, as alerted by Jonathan Patz, professor and John P. Holton Chair in Health and the Environmental at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: improper water and food resources connect to food insecurity and malnutrition; air pollution, allergens, and specif microclimate conditions causing respiratory diseases; improper housing conditions causing environmental refugees and conflict; water-borne diseases, for example cholera, cryptosporidiosis, campylobacter, leptospirosis; arboviruses, with emphasis on those caused by the vector Aedes aegypti – yellow fever, dengue fever and zika virus.

Precisely because of the relationship and its implications of these two factors, it is very important to think about how life has been affected in so many aspects – both physiologically and socially. Since it is unlikely and inconsistent to think of the absence of damage to the environment due to a process of societal growth, it is also a logical danger maintaining production systems in the current way.

The vulnerability of health due to climate change is considered by the Lancet as one of the biggest global health threat of this century, especially in regions with highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture and low adaptive capacity.2 Particularly when observing the poor seasonal rains and prolonged dry periods associated with plague leading to agricultural disaster, further aggravating food insecurity reflecting directly in children’s nutritional status.3 According with Adele Jones, a PhD research at Freiburg University, Bergstraesser Institute for Social-Cultural Research in Germany, is still more serious in considering the impact on cognitive development and increase susceptibility to endemic infectious diseases, including malaria and cholera, and particularly vulnerable when exposed to vector-borne infections and non-communicable diseases, affecting the livelihood.4 

The particles suspended in the atmosphere have natural and anthropogenic source, mainly from liquid fuel combustion and the exposure deteriorates lung function and increases the risk of respiratory infections and exacerbations of allergic diseases, such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and conjunctivitis. Moreover, there are still numerous irritant and carcinogenic substances in the dust and fumes. Besides that a growing problem is the dust from sandstorms with mineral particles, combustion residues of petroleum products, and microorganisms, such as bacteria (including Bacillus, Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus), microbes and air pollutants. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the level of air pollution concomitant with increasing plant cover in urban areas in a cooperation between specialists in aerobiology and allergology.5

Another very critical and indisputably political point is the environmental refugees, since there is currently a heated debate about whether or not to accept immigrants and, above all, how to insert them into other societies in view of cultural plurality. Moreover, the reality of economic inequality and the lack of structure to receive immigrants puts them in a situation of deep vulnerability and insecurity, forming an affront to life.

This vicious cycle is corroborated by the increase in too much of the population, the pollution caused by human activities and the own lifestyle that prefers practicality to the detriment of healthy practices for themself and for the environment, as is the case with unsustainable fishing techniques destroying fish stocks that are already threatened by global warming to the detriment of sustainability of farming, hunting and fishing. Consequently, from a holistic view, thinking about these changes is, inherently, discussing how humans can evolve causing minimal impact to the environment as well as to themselves.

It may be necessary to place health at the center of the discussion in order to draw attention to the urgency of this topic as well as to the various evil and detrimental aspects of quality of life and, above all, of our survival.

References

  1.  J. Patz. “Climate Change is Affecting Our Health. Is Theres a Cure?” TED x Oshkosh .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_Dpkn_wi54
  2. F. Bickton. “Climate changes as the biggest threat to public health in southern Africa and measures to reduce its impacts”, Malawi Medical Journal 28/2 (2016), pp. 70-72.
  3. I. Ghani, M. Zubair, and R. Nissa, “Climate change and its impact on nutritional status and health of children”, British Journal of Applied Science and Technology 21/1 (2017), pp 1-15.
  4. A. Jones. “Malnutrition, Poverty, and Climate Change are also Human Rights Issues in Child Labor”, Health and Human Rights Journal (2018), pp. 249-251.
  5. C. Pałczyński I. Kupryś-Lipinska, T. Wittczak, E. Jassem, A. Breborowicz, P. Kuna. “The position paper of the Polish Society of Allergology on climate changes, natural disasters and allergy and asthma.” Advances in Dermatology and Allergology (2018), pp. 552-562.

About the author

Sarah Laís Silva de Freitas is a second year medical student at Federal University of Campina Grande, Brazil. She worked with International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations of Brazil (IFMSA – Brazil) as a Local President. Among its areas of interest are genetics, pediatrics, molecular biology and neuromotor disorders. In addition she enjoys figure skating, poetry, human behavior and arts in general.

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