Robert Ndung'u's post

Health and Climate: reflections on how climate change drive infectious diseases spread “.......humanity's success in overcoming the health challenges of today is no guarantee for future success.” This quote is from the The Global Risk Report 2020, in reference to the existential global risk of resurgence and emergence of global epidemics including infectious diseases. Similar conclusions have been reached by diverse scientists working in global health and climate change fields, as well as by lived experiences of communities whose health and livelihoods are severely impacted by the ongoing climate crisis. This century, the world has experienced several waves of severe infectious diseases with devastating impacts on individual health, livelihoods, and local and international socio-economic systems. During the same period, humanity has ushered unprecedented advancements in technologies in health care and control of endemic diseases and improved quality of life, and these have led to overall reduction in mortality and morbidity related to infectious disease and longer life spans. However, we are also living through an era of accelerated global warming due to largely human driven climate change through increased carbon emissions, environmental degradation and pollution. This means that while we are at a stage of great human health, the era is also defined by increased risk of outbreaks of new and re-emerging and endemic diseases which is fueled by increased climate change and other human factors affecting increasingly vulnerable populations who experience intersectionality of oppressions and inequality. Emergence or re-emergence of an infectious epidemic starts with introduction of a pathogen ( new or endemic) to a vulnerable population of hosts where it undergoes inter and intra host transmission within a defined geographical region, and if not detected and controlled early it can spillover and spread globally facilitated by the increased human and animal mobility. The context within which these infectious diseases appear involves complex and multifaceted interactions among various pathogen and host interaction factors, socio-ecological factors and human factors. Pathogen factors that drive emergence and spread of novel/new pathogens strains include rapid mutations, gene reassortment and recombination. This allows generation of strains and variants of pathogens that easily escapes the immune system, antibiotics and other control measures. The immunity and nutrition status, pre-existing health conditions, age, mobility and interactions with other species are also important host related factors that influence the spread of diseases. However, it is becoming clear that anthropogenic factors such as overcrowding, urbanisation, increased human and animal mobility and non-clean energy production are driving green gas emissions, destruction of wildlife habitat and ecosystems are also critical drivers of poor health; and particularly emergence and reemergence of infectious diseases with pandemic potential. These are actually complicated by socio-ecological factors such as poor health infrastructure, food insecurity, inequality and marginalisation as well as war that often hinder success of early interventions that work to limit spread of diseases. So, this link between climate change and human health is well known, but we still see laxity by state and international actors to make and honour commitments to reduce global warming, protect and preserve ecosystems so as to avert the ongoing climate crisis and promote planetary health restoration. As the IPCC, 2022 notes, it’s not all gloom, but by understanding the context in which various vulnerabilities and exposure of human health, livelihood and ecosystems to various climate hazards when coupled with establishment of proper governance, financing, knowledge, capacity and technologies that creates catalysing conditions for climate and ecosystems restoration, humanity can be able to reverse global warming and thus transition to sustainable and climate change resilient human systems and ecosystems. Therefore, as we go to COP27, there is a need to keep in mind that for our health and survival on this planet we need to breathe clean air, access clean water, quality food and meet our industrial and subsistence production needs with sustainable green energy sources, and to achieve these, we need States and international agencies to actualise the commitment to avert the climate crisis & global warming by cutting down on fossil fuel but also by investing in climate restoration as clearly elaborated by Peter Fiekowsly and Carole Douglis in their book, Climate Restoration: The only future that will sustain the human race.

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