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World Health Day 2008 Highlights Protection of Health from Effects of Climate Change Print E-mail

Washington, D.C., April 7, 2008 (PAHO)—The effects of global climate change on human health and the need for action to prevent adverse impacts were the focus of a World Health Day observance at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) today. PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses noted that "Climate change is already affecting the health of people in countries around the world, and the consensus is that these effects are only going to intensify."

Sample Image"Climate change impacts on health both directly - for example through heat waves, floods and storms and other extreme weather events, but also indirectly, through effects on infectious disease, on water availability, and on agricultural production," said Dr. Roses. "These are not minor issues. Diseases that are sensitive to climate include some of our biggest killers as malaria, diarrhea, and including risk conditions such as under-nutrition, the single largest contributor to the global burden of disease. These are also diseases of children and diseases of poverty. Indeed, when it comes to climate change, those whose health is most at risk are those who have contributed least to the problem. The poor, whether rural or urban, have always suffered more the consequences of a degraded environment. Lack of safe food and water has resulted in diarrheal diseases in children and malnutrition in the longer term. Climate change now threatens to perpetuate these problems. Our fight for equity is at stake," she added.

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), in a video message for World Health Day, said, "The core concern is succinctly stated: climate change endangers human health. The warming of the planet will be gradual, but the effects of extreme weather events -- more storms, floods, droughts and heat waves -- will be abrupt and acutely felt. Both trends can affect some of the most fundamental determinants of health: air, water, food, shelter and freedom from disease."

"Human beings are already exposed to the effects of climate-sensitive diseases and these diseases today kill millions. They include malnutrition, which causes over 3.5 million deaths per year, diarrhoeal diseases, which kill over 1.8 million, and malaria, which kills almost 1 million," Dr. Chan noted.

Dr. Joxel García (left) at the ceremony.

Admiral Joxel Garcia, Assistant Secretary for Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said, "Climate change is a serious challenge, the scale and scope of which will require a global response. The United States is committed to doing its part, working at home and abroad on a range of initiatives to strengthen energy security, maintain economic growth, and effectively address climate change."

Dr. Garcia added, "The United States Government currently supports many domestic and international programs that protect human health from climate-sensitive risk factors - including climate change -- by improving local health systems, strengthening global surveillance systems, advancing climate science and mainstreaming climate considerations into sustainable development projects."

"Given the complexity of factors that influence human health, assessing health impacts related to climate change poses a difficult technical challenge. The United States supports national and international climate change research and activities that are targeted to better understand and predict health threats from climate variability and change," Dr. Garcia noted. "Climate and health policies should recognize and complement other public health priorities. A robust public health system, strengthened through strategic partnerships with other sectors and stakeholders, can reduce present vulnerabilities to climate events."

Kristie Ebi, lead author of the chapter on human health of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, said "We are entering a period of rapid climate change," with increases in temperatures likely to cause extreme weather events. That panel's report noted that "For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols were kept constant at year 2000 concentrations, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected. There is unavoidable uncertainty in this estimate, because the intricacies of the climate system are not fully understood, and humankind's developmental future cannot be foretold with certainty."

John Scott (left) and Hardy Spoehr.

Hardy Spoehr, Executive Director, Papa Ola Lokahi, Hawaii, spoke on the health effects of climate change on indigenous populations in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, noting possible adverse impacts on ocean levels, native species, ocean currents and marine life.

John Scott, Coordinator of the Subcommittee on Health of the American Indian and Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group, thanked PAHO for its work in mitigating the effects of climate change on native populations.

Luiz A. Galvão, PAHO's Area Manager for Sustainable Development and Environmental Health, said extreme weather events, disasters, increased spread of infectious diseases, and food scarcities or contamination are all possible effects that require actions to protect health from climate change, especially among poor and vulnerable populations.

World Health Day promotes actions to reduce "carbon footprints," improve and promote mass transportation systems, strengthen public health systems, and collaboration between the health sector and other sectors to ensure sound, evidence-based policies on climate change and human well-being.

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PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 May 2008 11:46

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