Health implications of hot, humid weather
*Experts warn climate change is damaging lifelong health of children globally
The weather has been hot and humid. Lagos and indeed most parts of the country had been experiencing extreme weather events charaterised by profuse sweating, restlessness and sleeplessness.
Previous studies have shown extreme heat and poor air quality increase complications from underlying heart and respiratory conditions like asthma, renal failure, and pre-term birth, and as temperatures rises, there will be more heat-related illness and deaths in both urban and rural areas.
It is predicted that Nigerians will be exposed to more frequent and/or intense extreme weather and climate events that not only threaten their lives and health, but also significantly disrupt health and social services.
The major public health organisations of the world have said that climate change is a critical public health problem. According to the United States (U.S.) National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, climate change makes many existing diseases and conditions worse, and it helps pests and pathogens spread into new regions. The most vulnerable people—children, the elderly, the poor, and those with health conditions—are at increased risk for climate-related health effects.
Also, the Nigeria Meteorological Agency had predicted that the situation could lead to increase in frequency and intensity of heavy downpours and is likely to increase further, raising the risk of flash flooding.
Ticks and mosquitos that transmit illnesses like malaria, Lassa fever, cholera and Yellow fever are likely to increase and spread to new areas.
More frequent heavy rain events will likely increase exposure of Nigerians to water-borne illnesses, including those linked to sewage contamination of drinking water. Recreational waters are likely to experience more outbreaks of aquatic pathogens, including cholera and harmful algal blooms.
Human-caused climate change also threatens food safety in multiple ways including lowering the nutritional quality of staples like wheat and rice, causing greater accumulation of mercury and other toxins in seafood, and increasing the chance for food-borne pathogens to enter to food supply.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the increase in global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) is primarily due to fossil fuel use and, in a smaller but still significant level, to land-use change.
Global warming can result in many serious alterations to the environment, eventually impacting human health. It can also cause a rise in sea level, leading to the loss of coastal land, a change in precipitation patterns, increased risks of droughts and floods, and threats to biodiversity.
Besides the visible effects on people’s livelihoods, global warming is predicted to have a strong and adverse impact on human health. The populations of countries that have contributed the least to global warming are the most vulnerable to death and diseases brought about by higher temperatures.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that climate change is responsible for at least 150,000 deaths per year, a number that is expected to double by 2030. The effects of global warming will cause dire health consequences.
IPCC predicts that global warming will worsen human health conditions, especially in tropical regions. In places like Africa, an increase in temperature signifies an increase in mosquito populations, thus escalating the risk of malaria, dengue and other insect-borne infections.
Prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures can have serious health effects on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and the sick. The most common health effect is hyperthermia or heatstroke that can be fatal if left untreated. IPCC predicts that global warming will lead to hot days, followed by nights of high temperatures.
Global warming can result in droughts that can worsen living conditions, particularly in Africa. The World Wild Fund has reported that climate change can drastically alter rainfall pattern, and risk water and food supplies for millions. The IPCC report estimates that approximately 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will be without adequate water and will face food shortages by 2020, as crop productivity will decline by about 50 per cent. Rising temperatures could also result in food shortages for 130 million people in Asia.
People suffering from heart problems are more vulnerable to increased temperatures, especially those living in already warm areas, as their cardiovascular system must work harder to keep their body cool. Hot temperatures increase the ozone concentration, which can damage people’s lung tissue and cause complications for asthma patients and those with lung diseases.
Increased global warming can also pose a threat to national security, affecting food security, which, in turn, can lead to resource conflicts. At the UN Security Council debate on energy, security and climate, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett introduced global warming as a security risk. Despite opposition from many Council members, such as the Russian Federation and China, she argued that the loss of basic needs due to climate change in poor countries could increase the risk of conflicts. Similarly, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has labelled climate change as “an act of aggression by the rich against the poor”.
Meanwhile, according to a new report from the medical journal The Lancet, climate change is already damaging the health of children, and its impacts will harm the entire generation with serious health problems throughout their lives.
Scientists and health experts from 35 academic institutions and United Nations agencies said that children will suffer from a rise in infectious diseases, malnutrition and air pollution if global warming continues on the current trajectory.
The report’s authors said a child born today will experience a world that is more than 4˚C warmer by the time they turn 71 years old, a rate of warming that will threaten their health at every stage of their life.
Executive director of The Lancet Countdown, an annual report tracking connections between public health and climate change, Nick Watts, said: “Children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of a changing climate.
“Their bodies and immune systems are still developing, leaving them more susceptible to disease and environmental pollutants.”
If greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by 1.5˚C in about 20 years. Warming starting at 2˚C could trigger an international food crisis in coming years, according to a recent report from the U.N.’s scientific panel on climate change.
“Without immediate action from all countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, gains in well being and life expectancy will be compromised, and climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation,” Watts said.
Children are more susceptible to infectious diseases exacerbated by rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns, according to the report. For example, climate change is causing the spread of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease. Nine of the 10 most hospitable years for dengue transmission have occurred since 2000.
Furthermore, children will breathe more toxic air throughout their lives, which will lead to reduced lung function, worse asthma and an increased risk of heart attack, the report said. The WHO estimates that around seven million people die every year from exposure to particles in polluted air.
Also, extremes in weather and temperature, increased pollution and environmental toxins, and changes in food security can all cause physical and mental health problems.
Climate change is affecting some of the essential factors that influence human health, including: safety of shelter; air quality; quality, safety, and supply of drinking water; food availability; and nutrition levels in food.
Researchers say they expect an increase in related health issues as climate change progresses.
According to the WHO, researchers predict that certain effects of climate change will contribute to an increase of about 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 from conditions such as: heat stress, malnutrition, diarrhea, and malaria.
Climate change can also contribute to migration, as factors such as drought and plummeting fish stocks can lead rural populations to move into urban centres.
Living in urban areas can increase the risk of disease due to overcrowding and higher temperatures. Extreme weather and natural disasters can be traumatic and stressful for the people whom they affect.
People may undergo displacement, injury, the loss of their home and possessions, or the loss of loved ones.
Extreme heat may also have a more significant effect on people with mental health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates increase with higher temperatures.
The CDC suggests that climate change and higher temperatures have a negative effect on depression and other mental health conditions.
Extreme temperatures can also change how certain medications, such as schizophrenia treatments, work in the body. In addition, they may affect people’s ability to regulate their body temperature correctly.
Researchers have found that natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, have negative mental health effects on those involved, including post-traumatic stress disorder and high levels of anxiety. Floods, heat waves, and wildfires may also create these issues.
Concerns about the effects of climate change may also be a source of increased anxiety or despair for some people.
According to the WHO, climate change is likely to cause an increase in insect-transmitted infections and waterborne diseases. The reason for this is that changes in climate could increase the length of the seasons during which insects transmit infections. These changes could also expand the area in which they occur.
Countries such as the United States may be at risk of an increase in both current waterborne and insect borne diseases and diseases that are not yet present in the area. Changes in rainfall patterns could also increase the risk of waterborne diseases and infectious diseases that cause diarrhoea.