Climate change and human health

A high-level advocacy meeting on climate change and protecting human health from its impact was conducted in the capital yesterday.

During the event, representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), National Environment Commission (NEC) and Department of Public Health (DoPH) made presentations on various topics.

Climate change leads to change in weather conditions that affect air, water, food and shelter, ultimately leading to social and environmental hazards. Climate sensitive diseases like malaria, dengue and malnutrition are known to be leading causes of death in developing countries and are expected to become more common as climate changes.

Climate fluctuations are also known to impact the most vulnerable section of the population such as poor individuals, infants, young children, and the elderly among others.

WHO representative to Bhutan, Dr Nani Nair in her inaugural address at the meeting said, “Climate change can affect human health, both directly and indirectly, and immediately, or via more prolonged processes. Direct impacts will result from more extreme weather events such as, heat waves and intense storms. Longer term and less direct effects will arise from climatic influences on the movement of mosquito populations, bacterial proliferation, agricultural yield uncertainties, and fresh water resources and flows”.

According to the DoPH under the health ministry, there are various health effects of climate change. Weather events such as heat waves and stagnant air masses could increase the impact on human health as heat stroke, cardiovascular stress, and increase in respiratory diseases. Warmer temperature and disturbed rainfall patterns could increase in the number of vector-borne disease, water-borne diseases, food-borne diseases, harmful algal blooms causing skin diseases, and poisoning and allergies caused by pollen.

Intense weather events can cause loss of home, livelihood/ population displacement, loss of life, injuries, lifelong handicap, damage to public health infrastructure and adverse mental health impacts. Poor air pollution can increase asthma, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Due to the climate change, Bhutan, like many other countries, is faced with various climate sensitive diseases. Common climate sensitive diseases in Bhutan are the water-borne diseases.

Water-borne diseases are caused by unpredictable rainfall pattern which can increase the risk of flooding, causing lack of safe and enough drinking water. This compromises hygiene and increases the risk of diarrheal and other water-borne diseases. Diarrheal diseases continue to be a major problem affecting the survival of children under five years of age in the country. According to the Annual Health Bulletin 2012, diarrhea incidence per 10,000 under five children in the year 2007 was recorded at 3,296 and 2,257 in 2011.

Vector-borne diseases are exhibited by distinct seasonal patterns. Malaria is still posing as a grave threat to the country’s population while Dengue and Chickungunya are on the rise.

Air pollution related health effect includes respiratory tract infection among children, elderly and immune compromised people. The main sources of indoor air pollution are known to be fuel wood and fossil fuel combustion. Outdoor air pollution is caused by emissions from vehicles, industrial, and construction activities.

Though air pollution is not a concern in the country, it is certain that local air quality in larger cities like, Thimphu and Phuentsholing is deteriorating, which could have huge impact on public health.

The advocacy meet was attended by Cabinet Ministers, Secretaries, and officials from WHO, NEC and Ministry of Health.

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