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Addressing the Effects of Climate on Health

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JAMA

August 18, 2015

M. J. Friedrich

Climate change poses great risks to global human health, but putting measures in place that can help mitigate the effects of climate threats can provide opportunities to improve the health of people around the world, according to a new report from the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change (Watts N et al. Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6 [published online June 24, 2015]).

Climate threats such as heat waves can have significant effects on human health.

M. J. Friedrich

The commission consists of a multidisciplinary, international group of scientists and health professionals who carried out a comprehensive review of the influence of climate change on human health. The environmental consequences of climate change include an increase in extreme weather events such as floods, heat waves, droughts, and storms. These events can affect human health by increasing the risk of infectious diseases, undermining food availability, reducing social stability, and increasing conflict.

The commission provides a 9-point plan recommending government policies needed to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience to public health threats engendered by climate change, including efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Previous studies similarly underscore human health risks associated with climate change and potential health benefits that could be achieved by implementing measures to mitigate climate change (Patz JA et al. JAMA. 2014;312[5]:1565-1580).

The Lancet commission also proposes a new independent global coalition, Countdown to 2030: Climate Change and Health Action, that would promote awareness of climate change as a health issue, provide expertise in implementing recommended policies, and monitor and report progress every 2 years to the United Nations.

Another recent report, “Heatwaves and Health: Guidance on Warning-System Development,” issued jointly by the World Health Organization and World Meteorological Organization, provides guidance for addressing the health risks associated with heat waves and promoting worldwide development and implementation of heat wave early warning systems (http://bit.ly/1NvUyfU). The report also provides an overview of meteorological and climate models predicting the likelihood of forthcoming hot weather that may affect health.

The report cites findings that indicate hot days, hot nights, and heat waves have become more frequent in the past 50 years across the globe. Extreme high temperatures can directly cause deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. They also raise the levels of ozone and other air pollutants that can exacerbate these diseases.

According to the report, health-related risks from high temperatures can be reduced by heat wave early warning systems that alert decision makers, health services, and the general public to impending dangerous hot weather.

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