Report Says Climate Change Is World’s Biggest Health Threat
The warming of the planet now represents the greatest public health threat, surpassing infectious diseases, water shortages and poverty, according to a team of researchers, Bloomberg reports (Cortez/Morales, Bloomberg, 5/14).
In the 41-page report (pdf) produced by a year-long Lancet and University College London Institute of Global Health Commission and released on Wednesday, researchers focus on key areas that connect climate change to health outcomes: changing patterns of disease and mortality, food, water and sanitation, shelter, extreme events and population migration (Costello et al., Lancet, 5/16). HealthDay News/Forbes writes, "Their report is one of the latest to expound on the deepening environmental crisis, and one of the first to focus on the potential role of health-care professionals in ameliorating the problem."
Lead author Anthony Costello, a pediatrician at University College London, said during a press conference, "This is a bad diagnosis not just for children in different lands. It's for our children and grandchildren. Even the most conservative estimates are profoundly disturbing and demand action. Climate change raises an important issue of intergenerational justice, that we are setting up a world for our children and grandchildren that may be extremely frightening and turbulent" (HealthDay News/Forbes, 5/13).
Climate change is "a threat that's been completely neglected, marginalised, ignored, by not just the global health community, by doctors, nurses and other health professionals, but also by policy-makers," said Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet. He added, "And yet, in terms of our well-being, in terms of our survival over the next 100 years, it is absolutely the top political issue that we should be talking about" (Kennedy, ABC Radio Australia, 5/14). The authors called for a coalition of health experts to set priorities for management, implementation and monitoring of the health effects of global warming within two years, IRIN reports (IRIN, 5/14).
The report, which based its predictions for the health impacts of global warming on a 2- to 6- degree temperature rise over the next century, concluded that rising temperatures will cause coastal cities to flood, severe weather conditions, food, water and housing shortages and the spread of vector-borne diseases and other health problems (HealthDay News/Forbes, 5/13).
"Malnutrition underpins about 60% of childhood deaths, and water insecurity, of course, increases the risk of diarrheal disease and malnutrition," Costello said. "We may well see increasing tropical diseases, like dengue fever, new viruses, and malaria, of course, in endemic areas may spread into new areas" (ABC Radio Australia, 5/14). Flooding in developed countries could "cause sewers to overflow into rivers and the water table," leading to the spread of disease, Bloomberg writes (Bloomberg, 5/14).
The researchers warned against attempts to quantify the number of people who may die from global warming because "climate change will amplify an array of problems such as war, famine and disease that already exist in the world, rather than being one- time events," Bloomberg writes (Bloomberg, 5/13).
A related editorial (pdf) describes five challenges for scientists, clinicians and policy makers to address regarding the health effects of climate change and calls for a "public health advocacy movement to usher in an unprecedented era of cooperation between the widely divergent, but utterly connected, spheres." A related comment (pdf) also appears in this week's Lancet (Lancet, 5/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.