In its most recent report published this March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a stark warning: climate change increases the global risk of infectious diseases.
Climate change is leading to a global risk of infectious diseases. Analyse. Suggest some measures to break this cycle. (15 marks, 250 words).
Climate Change and Diseases- the connection:
- Variations in temperature, rainfall, and humidity- disrupt the cycles of disease transmission and alter the habitats of disease vectors and animal hosts that carry the pathogens.
- Heat- has been found to impact the genetic structure of pathogens, affecting their ability to infect and their virulence.
- Habitat loss- Climate change leads to more infectious diseases as habitat loss forces disease-carrying animals to encroach on human areas, increasing the likelihood of human-animal interaction and the transfer of diseases from wildlife to humans.
- Some viruses that are harmless to animals can be fatal for humans, as exemplified by the ongoing Nipah virus outbreaks in Kerala.
- Changing climate patterns- An analysis from 2022 in Nature Climate Change warns that humans now face a wider range of infectious agents due to changing climate patterns.
- Invasive Species- Climate change transforms ecosystems, leading to invasive species and expanding the range of existing life forms, which complicates predictions of disease outbreaks.
Human-induced climate change is creating an unprecedented health vulnerability crisis, particularly affecting India with early summers, erratic monsoons, and water scarcity in the Gangetic plains and Kerala. These climate shifts are contributing to severe health crises, including dengue epidemics in Dhaka and Kolkata and the Nipah outbreak in Kerala. It is not surprising to witness recent outbreaks in Kolkata or Kerala given these circumstances.
What has India done?
- India has improved its outbreak reporting over the past two decades, transitioning from the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) to the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP), a web-enabled, near-real-time electronic system.
- However, IHIP has not fully met expectations for real-time tracking of emerging disease outbreaks. The current surveillance system is insufficient for the evolving disease scenario.
- To mitigate the spread of climate change-induced diseases, efforts should focus on safeguarding ecosystems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and implementing active pathogen surveillance.
- A unified approach called One Health, which integrates monitoring of human, animal, plant, and environmental health, recognizes the interconnectedness of these factors.
- India should launch One Health and infectious disease control programs by fostering collaboration between the central and state governments and their specialized agencies, including animal husbandry, forest and wildlife, municipal corporations, and public health departments.
- Establishing robust surveillance systems and building trust among stakeholders are essential components of this effort. While the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister has taken the lead so far, new funding from sources like the World Bank requires greater coordination and management.
Climate change affects not only infectious diseases but also injuries and deaths resulting from extreme weather events, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and mental health issues. In the face of a changing climate and the increasing threat of infectious diseases, protecting ecosystems, fostering collaboration, and embracing the One Health approach are our best defenses. The path ahead demands concerted efforts to adapt and proactively safeguard our planet and its inhabitants.