It’s time to strengthen ties between the health sector and climate services
The invisible, deceptive and ruinous enemy of COVID-19 has left the global human race strangled in misery, agony and uncertainty. The helplessness of humankind has again proved weak in front of nature's dictation. This leads us to the burning questions of how prepared we are to tackle natural threats, especially in developing countries where inequality is mountainous, basic services are scarce and national administrations are cumbersome.
Worldwide, the health system is massively strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “COVID-19 is revealing how fragile many of the world’s health systems and services are, forcing countries to make difficult choices on how to best meet the needs of their people.” In a country like Bangladesh, where 1,115 people reside per sq. km, the health measures need to be extra robust to contain any disaster. According to the Directorate of Health, there are only 29 ICU beds with ventilators, which is a must for the serious COVID-19 patients. Presently, 10 healthcare facilities are conducting tests and seven of them are in the capital city; raising a big question for the remaining 14 crore population of this country. The same situation can be also observed in terms of PPE for the doctors or nurses, unavailability of the testing kits, un-reported patients or lack of proper guidance at national level. All these inefficiencies can push Bangladesh to an inevitable disaster like the probable unprecedented consequence of climate change, leaving us with very few options.
Both of them call for a global-to-local response and long-term thinking; guided by science and need to protect the most vulnerable among us; and all require the political will to make fundamental changes when faced with existential risks. The COVID-19 pandemic may also lead us to a deeper understanding of the ties that bind us all on a global scale and could help us get to grips with the largest public health threat of the century, the climate crisis.
Ebola Outbreak and Climate Variability
Some scientists think that climate change, with its increase in sudden and extreme weather events, played a role in Ebola outbreaks. The dry seasons followed by heavy rainfalls that produce an abundance of fruit have coincided with outbreaks. When fruit is plentiful, bats (the suspected carriers of the recent Ebola outbreak) and apes may gather together to eat, providing opportunities for the disease to jump between species. Humans can contract the disease by eating or handling an infected animal (Cho, 2014).
Malaria and Climate Variability
According to the latest World Malaria report of 2019, there were 228 million cases of malaria in 2018. According to the IPCC, climate change will be associated with longer transmission seasons for malaria. As temperatures warm, the Plasmodium parasite in the mosquito that causes malaria reproduces faster and the vector, i.e. the mosquito, takes blood meals more often. Rain and humidity also provide favorable conditions for the mosquitoes to survive (Cho, 2014).
Dengue Fever and Climate Variability
Dengue fever infects about 400 million people each year, and is one of the primary causes of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. The IPCC projects that the rise in temperatures along with projected increases in population could put 5 to 6 billion people at risk of this fever in the 2080s because the reproductive, survival and biting rates of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are strongly influenced by temperature, precipitation and humidity (Cho, 2014).
It can be also stated that extreme weather patterns can influence the health sector in a circular pattern. On one hand, it is worsening the yield of crops and leading to food security problems, exacerbating malnutrition. On the other hand, economic loss is restricting people's ability to access healthcare facilities. Additionally, frequent natural disasters are worsening the situation to a higher magnitude. More than 70 major medical groups in the U.S. released a call to action in June 2019 declaring climate change “a true public health emergency.”
Henceforth, considering the global health crisis and potential risks from climatic phenomenon, the time is ticking for a consolidated approach; under the umbrella of climate services. Climate services aim to strengthen the linkages among the various stakeholders of climate-sensitive sectors with accurate and efficient climate information to make informed decisions. As Bangladesh is at the forefront of climatic risks along with what is seen as an inefficient health sector globally, climate services have the potential to widen the window for the wider population to protect themselves from various climate induced diseases. As the mandated entity, Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) should be more accessible and linked with the various healthcare sectors and research institutes of Bangladesh to analyse and formulate acute information. Regular weather updates should be provided to the health organizations to take effective measures. A national forum can be formed by consolidating health and climate experts and practitioners to spread the information among a wider population. However, the private sector should be also encouraged to participate in the process by offering various incentives to contribute in developing an efficient health system in Bangladesh, along with adapting climate services at different tiers of the sector.
Farah Anzum is a Research Associate at ICCCAD. She has pursued her education in the field of Environmental Management and Economics. Her field of involvement includes climate finance and services, natural resource management and environmental economics.