Climate change may pose new challenges in disease control in the State: SAPCC

Climate change may trigger the emergence of new and unfamiliar infections and pose new challenges for disease control in Kerala.

According to the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) prepared by the Department of Environment and Climate Change, the health sector will have to contend with the outbreak of vector and water borne diseases, new breeding sites of vectors, pathogens and bacteria, occurrence of new and emerging diseases, and increase in mortality due to extreme events caused by climate change.

There is a need for Kerala to put health at the heart of the climate change agenda, the action plan states. Observing that the emergence of dengue fever, chikungunya, and other viral diseases are highly sensitive to climate conditions, the document notes that combating these diseases will extract a toll on public health and the economy.

New diseases

The report warns that climate change can also result in diseases such as Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis as well as salmonella and other food borne infections caused, transmitted or harboured by insects, snails and other cold-blooded creatures.

“When infectious diseases appear in new locations where people lack immunity and health services do not have experience in control or treatment, the effects can be dramatic.”

The report says that people living in coastal regions, waterlogged areas, cities, and hilly areas are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

The document has listed the main challenges to manage vector borne diseases. These include lack of proper drainage, migrant labourers and their tendency to change residence frequently, unused latex collection containers in rubber estates, absence of proper waste management, lack of regular water supply, plastic wastes that turn into vector breeding grounds, poor reporting of communicable diseases from private institutions, and shortage of field staff in the health sector.

The action plan, due to be taken up for implementation this year, moots a detailed programme to map the areas prone to vector, water and air borne diseases.

It seeks to improve disease surveillance, vector surveillance, water quality surveillance, and identification of other warning signs of communicable diseases. The proposed plan includes seasonal mapping and subsequent planning for the prevention and management of communicable diseases at the local body, district and State level. Outbreak investigations and control measures will be taken up systematically.

Need for research

The action plan also recommends the setting up of an institute of environmental health sciences to undertake operational research on epidemic diseases and impart training for functionaries of the health and other line departments.

P. Sreekantan Nair, Director, Environment and Climate Change, told The Hindu that the action plan would be implemented through a multi-institutional approach with responsibilities shared by different departments and agencies.

He said the priority programmes were expected to be taken up this financial year in view of the emergence of new diseases and spatial distribution of vector-borne diseases in urban areas.

The report stresses the need to develop a modelling and prediction system to identify vulnerable communities with limited capacity to adapt to various health- related stresses.

Health Department activities will be integrated with weather warning systems to plan for advance procurement and pre-positioning of stocks and issuing health alerts for communities. The Suchitwa Mission will work in tandem with the Health Services to develop a decentralised waste management system and vector-control activities will be stepped up.

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