Climate change and health are interconnected

Ramya Kannan

Different arguments are made on different platforms

“With global warming and climactic changes, coastal regions are likely to be affected more”

“Civic body is trying to install solar lights and encouraging planting of more saplings”

CHENNAI: As we get ready to turn the decade, it is obvious that whatever lifestyle modifications we make, it is important to factor in climate change and its impact on health.

The world has already taken cognisance of the impact of climate change on health, but the different arguments are made on different platforms and are yet to come together forcefully enough to influence policy.

Speaking at the K. S. Sanjivi Memorial Lecture in the city recently, K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India, stressed the need for public health to be wholistic. “If we ignore other realities such as climate change and ignore the interconnectedness, again we will be taking a limited perspective,” he said.

Dr. Reddy used an example to highlight the interconnectedness. Cardiologists from the WHO recommend a dietary modification to reduce red meat consumption; the World Cancer Report says the same thing as it causes cancers of the digestive tract; and climate change proponents have been calling for reduction of livestock population. “During pandemics we run helter-skelter, looking for vaccines. We don’t question why over the last 30 years, there has been a new infectious disease outbreak every year, 60 per cent of them zoonotic. This is not because animals have suddenly turned virulent. It is because large animals are being bred in captivity in pathetic conditions, putting them in a position to transmit viruses that mutate easily. Then, it is also necessary to grain feed them, leading to deforestation, and thereon to food insecurity, cancer, cardiovascular diseases. This is the larger picture,” Dr. Reddy said.

Again, at a meeting held more recently at Kilpauk Medical College, there emerged more proof that the establishment was indeed worrying about the impact of climate change on health.

Corporation Health Officer P. Kuganantham said, “With global warming and climactic changes, coastal regions are likely to be affected more. With water levels predicted to rise, salinity of drinking water will also increase and directly impact on the health of the people. We are talking about hypertension and cardiac illnesses, here,” he added. But what is really bothering him is that the change of weather is likely to cause the proliferation of more numbers of vectors and rodents that are primarily disease carrying agents. “The infection they spread will be different, organisms will mutate, and our drugs may not work anymore,” Dr. Kuganantham explained.

Therefore, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases would be a great cause for concern for healthcare providers and policy makers. He stresses as Dr. Reddy does on addressing climate change and public health from the same platform.

“In fact, WHO even says that in future, policy makers and planners should keep public health experts at hand while developing strategies,” Dr. Kuganantham said. Going by what Mayor M.Subramaniam claimed, it seems that cognisant changes are afoot in the Corporation area. According to him, the civic body is trying to install solar lights wherever possible, and encouraging planting of more saplings to create green spaces and cyclist tracks.

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