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Climate change leading to spread of new infections: Experts

Climate change is exacerbating the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus, as well as the emergence of new infectious diseases, experts say.

Dr Karan Thakur, Group Lead - Sustainability & ESG and Vice President - Public Affairs at Apollo Hospitals Group, said, ‘Climate change is causing significant and widespread impacts on the health of people and communities around the world.”

He added that it is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, and droughts, leading to injuries, displacement, and deaths.

Dr Thakur pointed out that climate change also exacerbates air pollution, resulting in respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and impacts food and water security, leading to malnutrition and water-borne diseases.

Dr. Poornima Prabhakaran MBBS, MSc(Epidemiology), PhD (Social Medicine), said, ‘The impacts of climate change are disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, those with pre-existing medical conditions, as well as those living in low-income communities and developing countries.”

“Tackling climate change is essential to protect public health and ensure a sustainable future for all. The health sector, therefore, has a major role in responding to the growing burden of climate-sensitive illnesses through a suitable preparedness and adaptation response,” Dr Prabhakaran said.

“Additionally, the health sector also has a responsibility to reduce its own emissions that can contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. This can be achieved by adopting sustainable initiatives that can transform the health care facility to an environmentally-friendly one,” she explained.

It may be noted that air pollution is one of the leading environmental health risks of the 21st century.

According to the Global Burden of Disease, study, 1·67 million deaths were attributable to air pollution in India in 2019, accounting for 17·8% of the total deaths in the country. In addition to its impact on the health of citizens, air pollution also harms the country's economy.

Lost output from premature deaths and morbidity attributable to air pollution accounted for economic losses of $28.8 billion and $8 billion, respectively. Many studies have shown massive unawareness regarding air pollution among citizens.

 A study released in 2020 titled “Understanding Knowledge, Attitude, and Practice of Health Practitioners Towards Health Effects of Air Pollution in India”, highlighted that despite air pollution becoming an important issue globally and specifically in India, many physicians are not completely equipped to recognize and communicate the health impacts of Air pollution to their patients.


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