Climate change takes toll on public health, causes 7 M premature deaths yearly – WHO

Published September 13, 2018, 8:47 PM

by Roel Tibay

By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

SAN FRANCISCO, California — With about 7 million premature deaths all over the world every year due to air pollution, climate change represents one of the biggest public health challenges that we are confronting today, an official of the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Climate change (Image CC0 Public Domain | Manila Bulletin)
Climate change (Image CC0 Public Domain | Manila Bulletin)

According to Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department of Public Health and Environment, there is a major concern to bring all the health reasons why the government and public should do something about climate change.

“For us, this is a major issue. In fact, what is causing global warming is as well in most of the cases responsible for air pollution,” she said ahead of the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

Neira said that letting the public understand that air pollution is connected to climate change is “a little bit complicated.”
“This is an agenda that needs to be tackled. There is a significant connection to the use of fossil fuels in our daily life that is responsible for climate change and air pollution,” she explained.

“We are breathing air that is killing us,” she said.

Neira pointed out that significantly improving air quality would not only benefit our health, but could also help tackle the issues on climate change. This will help reduce the 7 million premature deaths occurring every year due to air pollution.

“When people talk about climate change they might think that this is only an environmental, political, economic or development issue but in fact it is as simple as human health issue,” she pointed out.

“There is a hidden price to climate change and it is being paid by our lungs, brain and cardiovascular system. I think this is an argument that might change the way how we address climate change. We are paying for the healthcare and it is not part of what we are talking about here,” she added.

3 pillars for good health

Neira explained that if one wants good health for the people, one needs to focus on three pillars, namely access to food, water, and shelter.

“If those three pillars are dramatically affected by climate change, there will be less agricultural production and displacement of people due to natural disasters who will be exposed to different problems. If these three pillars are directly affected, we will have a major earthquake on the pillars of public health,” she said.

“In addition to that, there are certain diseases that are transmitted by vectors, such as mosquitoes, and will have better conditions to reproduce because it is getting warmer,” she added.

She cited that there are certain diseases, such as malaria and dengue that are climate-sensitive. An increased number in population may be at risk of being affected by malaria or dengue, particularly in Asia.

“The meteorological conditions in the Philippines are creating the perfect situation where you can expect that vector-borne diseases will be transmitted,” Neira said.

“The basic measures for prevention like avoiding stagnant water and using nets for protection, that is very very much valid. But climate change will only aggravate that so we need to fight against climate change and make sure that this will be in our agenda to protect the population from dengue fever,” she added.