Increasing illness

A WARMER world will also mean a sickly one. World Health Organisation (WHO) projects that illnesses and deaths related to temperatures, extreme weather and population displacement, as well as from air pollution, food and water shortages and food-, vector- and rodent-borne diseases will go up.

“Some expected impact will be beneficial, for instance, a drop in cold-related deaths, but most will be adverse. Medical experts do not expect to see new diseases but changes in the frequency and severity of familiar ones,” says Dr H. Ogawa, adviser at WHO Western Pacific office.

He says the health effects of climate change are already seen as in the heat waves in Europe in 2003 and Tokyo in 2004, as well as increasing cases of dengue fever in Singapore.

The shift in weather patterns will introduce vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, to areas where vectors were not previously present. The temperature rise has contributed to rising dengue cases, triggering global concern.

“The distribution of dengue cases has changed to a wider population. It now afflicts 30% of the global population but that figure will reach 50% to 60% by 2085. We need more vigilant surveillance and health control for dengue.”

Ogawa says the higher temperatures will also worsen photochemical smog, triggered by the reaction between car emissions and sunlight.

Under-nutrition is another future concern as food production, which is affected by temperature and rainfall, is expected to decline.

He says developing countries will suffer more from climate-related health risk as they lack supporting facilities. To protect their populations from climate-related health risks, he says nations must strengthen their public health systems.