Climate Change and our Health: Guest Post


I have been sick for a large part of the summer; in particular since the drought over the capital city of Kingston has set in. A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I had to go to the hospital and go on a nebulizer – something I thought was for asthmatics only. I am now recovering from a chest infection, and trying to keep out of the burning heat. In fact, I can honestly say that I have not felt 100 per cent WELL since contracting “Chik V” last October.

This morning we had a trickle of water in our pipes; this afternoon there is no water at all. How is all of this affecting our health, and how will it affect us in the future? 

Is this all linked to climate change?

As I was pondering this question (and wondering why the Ministry of Health has not seen fit to issue any advisories regarding simple health precautions, like washing hands, in light of the water shortages) I came across the following article and thought I would share it with you. These are the views of the authors, of course; I hope it will get us thinking about this issue, however. Your feedback is welcome, as always. 

AND BY THE WAY: Are you ready for the Climate Change Walk in Jamaica? Mark your calendars! October 24, 2015.

An aerial view of the Mona Reservoir last year. Water levels have not recovered and this year, as we suffer another extended drought, severe water restrictions are in place. (Photo: diGJamaica)
An aerial view of the Mona Reservoir last year. Water levels have not recovered and this year, as we suffer another extended drought, severe water restrictions are in place. (Photo: diGJamaica)

CLIMATE CHANGE AND HEALTH

Contributors: Matthew Hann and Nalini Jagnarine

Have you ever wondered why there has been a sudden outbreak and an increase in the number of diseases, hospital cases and sanitary related issues globally?? Think about it! Then, how would you feel if you realized that these were the direct effects of climate change? Would that coax you to wake up and change your habits? Would that influence the way you see climate change?

Believe it or not.… Now more than ever, climate change is creating a health crisis in many parts of the world, including the Caribbean.

Whether you operate your own business or you are responsible for anything that lands on your desk, processing line or job queue, we should all make an effort to listen to climate change talks. In fact, the implications of climate change are imperative to everyone today just as much as they are to future generations. If we move away from the science and the literature we realize that climate change has even greater risks than just the physical environment. Climate change has become personal…. Our health!

In the Caribbean we are becoming quite familiar with vector-borne diseases.
In the Caribbean we are becoming quite familiar with vector-borne diseases.

Based on an August 2014 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change will affect many aspects of our health… from the water we drink, the air we breathe, to the food we eat. Areas with weak health infrastructure such as developing countries will feel these impacts the most. These countries will be least able to cope and respond. No surprise there! So then what are we planning to do?

Did you know that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress?

Considering that we live within a region of developing countries, it is not difficult to see that the likelihood of the WHO’s report is already being proven. If we focus on malaria, we see a disease which is spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become a plague during rainy seasons when poor drainage systems and areas for fresh water to settle serve as breeding grounds for the insects. When the insect carries a virus, the outcome is not limited solely to malaria outbreaks. Just add to that the 2014 Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) and the 2015 Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreaks. Both viruses, although mosquito transmitted, were able to spread rapidly across large land masses and territories.

In Jamaica, CHIKV struck the island’s residents hard, leading to thousands of people contracting the virus; persons with pre-existing medical conditions reporting that their conditions were actually worsened after they contracted CHIKV; and weeks of labour hours lost due to persons being unable to work for as many as two weeks. The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica estimated a loss of about 13 million man hours due to the Chikungunya epidemic, potentially resulting in economic losses of more than $6 billion.

CHIKV emerged after an extended dry spell, with some of the most widespread forest fires many Jamaicans have ever witnessed locally, which was immediately then followed by an extended period of rainfall. The rainy season provided ideal conditions for the CHIKV infected mosquitoes to breed, thrive and infect almost the entire population. Climate change is expected to create more incidents like this because the same warming temperatures that intensify dry spells during our dry, moisture-deficient season, is the same warming weather that increases the amount of natural evaporation (during the moisture-rich rainy season) needed to fuel increased condensation.

The result: Increased rainfall and flood vulnerability, which creates ideal conditions for mosquito breeding, water contamination and other conditions that can potentially compromise your health and put children and senior citizens at high risk.

While more levels of rainfall caused by climate change create conditions for virus-transmitting mosquitoes, the overall warming temperatures may bring back viruses thought extinct or eradicated thousands of years ago. By thawing a sample of permafrost soil buried 30 meters below the surface in northeast Siberia, researchers were able to discover and revive a new type of virus. The virus, Pithovirus sibericum, after being frozen for approximately 30,000 years was able “to infect a throng of unsuspecting single-cell organisms.” If this not does even slightly scare you, then I don’t know what will.

This virus found in Siberian permafrost was inactive for more than 30,000 years until it was revived in a laboratory in France.
This virus found in Siberian permafrost was inactive for more than 30,000 years until it was revived in a laboratory in France.

Climate is not just affecting our physical environment, it is and will continue to invade our spaces and affect us on a different level. Something more personal and vital to ourselves…. Our own health! We therefore cannot ignore the signals in front of us and leave it up to the “scientists and professionals” to deal with. Let’s all do something! Walk for Health and Stand for Earth.

 

 

 

 


2 thoughts on “Climate Change and our Health: Guest Post

  1. Thanks for this, Emma. It is so important to keep connecting the dots.
    And that comment about not feeling 100% well since CHIKV last year…me too!

    Like

    1. I’m not the only one, then! Yes, and it worries me that our government does not appear to be making those connections. (I wonder if Chik V affects your immune system, somehow? I still don’t think we know enough about it).

      Like

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