The effects of climate change on health: recommendations to increase community resilience

This paper is authored by Hojat Najafi: Visiting Scholar, Flinders University, Australia, and Doctoral Student, Shiraz University, Iran.

Over the past century, significant changes in the climate system have occurred due to a range of industrial activities. Climate change, which refers to long-term changes in weather and in the pattern of occurrence of weather events, is a fundamental and progressive threat to human health (1,2). Climate change is manifested in the form of warmer winters, changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency of heavy rain, increased intensity and frequency of storms and extreme weather events, floods, drought, and air pollution (3,4). In addition, as climate change worsens, the risk of wildfires increases in most parts of the world. These fires result in increases in mortality and morbidity rates from burns, wildfire smoke, and psychological effects (5).

The adverse effects of climate change have a significant impact on health and may turn into a disaster for human health in the future, and therefore requires dynamic planning by health policy-makers. According to a WHO report, it is expected that climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stroke between 2030 and 2050 (6). The adverse effects of climate change on human health are why the World Health Organization (WHO) declared this hazard as one of the top ten global health threats in 2019 (2,6).

The dependence of human health on the environment means that climate-related factors can have both direct and indirect effects on human health and present as a major challenge for healthcare systems. The direct effects of climate change on health include heat stroke, cardiovascular problems, respiratory diseases and allergies, infectious and vector-borne diseases, mental health problems, malnutrition, trauma, and poisoning. Meanwhile, the indirect effects of climate change on human health occur through the increased occurrence of floods, reduction of drinking water quality, increased air pollution, unprincipled land use, ecosystem change, population displacement, destruction of agricultural products, and the disruption of social life and national security (4). Poor families, children, old people, people with chronic diseases, and pregnant women are the most vulnerable groups to the health effects of extreme weather (7,8). In addition, these effects can put health systems under stress through damage to health infrastructure, including the ‘external’ infrastructure systems that health depends upon, and the destruction of healthcare services, putting their resilience and capacity to resist stress and shock to the test (7).

Through measures such as training physicians to work on mitigation, adaptation, and policy regarding climate change, investing in health systems that are resilient to climate change, investing in renewable energy, and monitoring and investing in research into climate change, health systems can respond more effectively to the impact of climate change and the deteriorating environment (1,7). Additionally, creating an international framework to reduce carbon dioxide, managing the growth of cities, applying new agricultural methods, engaging in reforestation, and upgrading disaster management systems can reduce the adverse effects of climate change and make communities more resilient (7).

Conclusion: Human health is strongly affected by climate change. The vulnerability of a society to health problems caused by climate change is related to the resilience and adaptation of the public health system and infrastructure. Therefore, governments and civil society should establish practical plans to reduce the rate and scale of climate change and adapt to it by focusing on the use of climate mitigation technologies and policies.


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