climate change protestors

By Michael Head and Jessica Boxall, Clinical Informatics Research Unit, Faculty of Medicine

The impact of climate change upon health is a key topic for many global health stakeholders, and these impacts will be greater and more immediate in lower-income settings than, for example, here in the UK. Changes in predictability of weather patterns, with extreme events such as heat and rainfall, are already making life difficult in places like rural Ghana where populations are heavily dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods and food security. But it’s not just the global south that needs to keep an eye on the changing climate.

We have ongoing research in Mion, a community in Ghana, which aims to assess local knowledge, attitudes, and practice around climate change and its impact on health and food security (you may have seen our poster at the recent Faculty conference!). The entire community is lacking nutrition (food insecure) to some extent, with our findings showing around 1 in 5 can be defined as severely food insecure. We’ve also seen how local awareness of climate change is very high, with almost all respondents believing the changing weather is having a negative impact upon their health, and they’re indicating an increase in fly or mosquito populations in the last 5 years.

That’s all in rural Ghana. However, the local picture for the UK is the emerging threat around tropical diseases from mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. That threat is increasing, due to climate change. Dengue and West Nile Virus, as mosquito-driven diseases, have been present for some years in Italy and with outbreaks becoming more frequent in France. The Crimean-Congo virus, which causes a haemorrhagic fever a little like Ebola, is carried by the Hyalomma tick. Those ticks are rapidly going global, for example, being found as far north as parts of Scandinavia. There are new media reports of local transmission of malaria in Florida, which if correct would be the first instance of that happening for several decades. The UK does already have mosquito populations that in theory could harbour the malaria parasite or the Dengue virus.

Climate change is with us already and will likely get worse before there’s any possibility of it getting better. Our burden of disease will change over the coming years and decades. That will in turn require training of healthcare workers to evolve to keep up with the times. Universities may (perhaps, will?) need to introduce components into the curriculum to ensure that medics of the future are fully briefed around aspects of what we today might call ‘global health’ but tomorrow might simply be ‘our health’. Nature is firing the warning shots – will our preparedness follow?

Climate change will likely turn global health into ‘our health’

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