Straits Times Friday November 18 2005

 

GLOBAL WARMING POSES

HEALTH RISK

 

RISING THREAT: A boy suffering from dengue fever in a Jakarta hospital. Warmer temperatures are cited as one factor in the bad outbreak of the disease in Asia this year. PHOTO: AFP WHO warns warmer temperatures trigger rise in diseases like dengue and malaria. WASHINGTON SICK WITH CHANGE >> HERE'S a look at the link between climate change and the occurrence of diseases. In warmer temperatures the parasite that spreads malaria via mosquitoes develops more quickly. Research has shown an increase in such cases in the highlands of Kenya during periods of extreme heat variability. >> Researchers who observed WestNile virus' spread across the US have documented a correlation of its movement with hotter and drier weather - the weather of choice for the primary carrier of the virus, the Culex mosquito. >> WHO officials reported that warmer temperatures and heavy rains in South Asia have led to the worst outbreak of dengue fever in years. >> A study in Peru found that when the El Nino boosted temperatures there, hospital admissions of children with diarrhoea increased greatly. >> Researchers have also documented a link between rising temperatures and deaths from air pollution. Warmer, sunnier days trigger atmospheric reactions that worsen harmful smog. DATA from the World Health Organisation indicates that climate change is driving up rates of infectious diseases such as dengue fever and malaria worldwide.The WHO estimates that the warming climate contributes to more than 150,000 deaths and five million illnesses each year, a toll that could double by 2030. Health and climate scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison - who conducted one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to measure the impact of global warming on health - said the WHO data also shows that rising temperatures disproportionately affect poor countries that have done little to create the problem. They reached their conclusions after plugging data on climate sensitive diseases into mapping software. "Global warming is not only an environmental problem, it's a very serious health problem," said Dr Jonathan Patz, lead author of the report and an associate professor at the Institute for Environmental Studies and the department of population health sciences at the university. "And it represents a huge global ethical challenge," he added. The regions most at risk from climate change include the Asian and South American Pacific coasts, as well as the Indian Ocean coast and sub-Saharan Africa. Large cities are also likely to experience more severe health problems because they produce what scientists refer to as the urban "heat island" effect, in which cities register temperatures five to 10 degrees warmer than the outlying areas. The latest study adds to growing evidence of a correlation between infectious diseases and climate change. For example, Dr Patz's team found research that showed an increase in cases of malaria in the highlands of Kenya during periods of extreme heat variability. Another study documented a correlation between warming trends in Ethiopia and malarial infections. Dr Patz said researchers who have observed West Nile virus' spread across the US have documented a correlation of its movement with hotter and drier weather - the weather of choice for the primary carrier of the virus, the Culex mosquito. And just this week, WHO officials reported that warmer temperatures and heavy rains in South Asia have led to the worst outbreak of dengue fever there in years. The mosquito borne illness, which is now beginning to taper off, has infected 120,000 South Asians this year and killed at least 1000 Senior US and international officials already regard climate change as a major public health threat. Dr Howard Frumkin, who directs the National Centre for Environmental Health at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, called climate change "a significant global health challenge" in an interview this week. Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrian, a scientist at the WHO's Department of Protection of the Human Environment, said its initial estimates of global warming-related deaths are conservative in light of Europe's massive 2003 heat wave and new research linking climate change to more intensive hurricane activity. "Climate change makes it even more important to combat diseases of the poor, many of which are highly climatesensitive," he said. ' Dr Patz's findings published yesterday in the journal Nature also come less than two Weeks before officals from some 150 countries meet in Montreal to discuss how to curb greenhouse gases when the first phase of the Kyoto Treaty ends. These emissions are expected to increase global average temperature by about 14 deg C by the end of the century, causing extreme flooding, more droughts and intense heatwaves. WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

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