Climate change and infectious disease: The Nigerian experience

Climate change- the weather pattern of a place over a period of time, which range from 30 to 40 years-has been with us for about three and a half decades. Its prominence came to the fore during the Rio dejanerio conference in Brazil in 1992. Since then much has been said about it culminating in workshops, symposia, conferences, conventions summits leading to polices, treaties, protocols etc. Most of these policies, treaties, protocols and even enactments have been pursued or implemented to an extent, but a lot still needs to be done so as to address it totally. A serious dimension of the climate change scenario is its effect on diseases – infectious diseases.

In the past 900,000 years of the 4.7 billion years of earth, we have witnessed prolonged periods of global cooling and warming. For about 100,000 years glacial ice covered vast areas of the earth leading to decrease in atmospheric temperature. Later warmer interglacial periods came lasting for between about 10,000 – 12,500 years with significant increases in atmospheric temperature.

The variation in the temperature of the atmosphere results in climate change. This change can be caused by dynamic processes on earth, external forces including variations in sunlight intensity and more recently human activities.

CAUSES OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The causes of climate change can be grouped into Natural and Human Factors.

Natural Factors

Natural Ocean variability, The memory of climate, Green House Gases, Plate Tectonics, Solar Radiation, Orbital variation, Volcanism – release of H20,S02,C02, H2S, HCl and HF 

Human Factors

Irrigation and the effect of temperature and humidity, Fuel combustion, Aerosols use, Cement manufacture, Land use, Ozone depletion, Animal Agriculture (livestock), and Deforestation/Desertification.

EFFECT OF CLIMATE CHANGE

  1. Rise in temperature 1.5 – 3.50C
  2. High Precipitation
  3. Frequent intensity of weather events – storms and floods
  4. Sea level rise due to thermal expansion of the ocean and melting of the mountain glaciers – coastal flooding.
  5. Destruction of environment, agricultural ozone – shifting towards the poles in the year 2100.
  6. Ecosystem may decline or fragment and individual species may become extinct.
  7. Natural disasters – floods / drought
  8. Water quality and Quantity is affected
  9. Food insecurity
  10. Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion
  11. Infectious Diseases 
  12. Biodiversity loss
  13. Deforestation and desertification

Some of the Infectious Diseases associated with climate change are: Malaria, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, Bubonic Plague, Lyme disease, Lassa fever, Cholera, Dysentery, Typhoid and Respiratory tract infections.

NIGERIAN EXPERIENCE

Before the emergence of climate change, most of the above diseases have been in Nigeria. Malaria for example, is as old as the Nigeria nation itself and perhaps older. Lassa fever has also been with us since 1969. The new concept is the link between climate change and infectious Disease. The Nigeria nation is aware of these diseases and can deal with them, with the collaboration of UN and WHO.

INFECTIOUS DISEASES AND CLIMATE CHANGE 

  1. Sea level rise/melting of mountain glaciers, floods, heavy rainfall- malaria, contaminated water - cholera, dysentery and typhoid.
  2.  Drought- water scarcity – low sanitation- cholera, dysentery and diarrhea.

Rise in Temperature/ green house gases/ heat waves – Lassa fever and Lyme disease.

Fossil fuel/particulates, dust, aerosols- air pollution – respiratory diseases e.g. bacterial pneumonia and cough.

      RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Enlightenment: Environmental awareness of what is climate change should be made. Here people should know what climate change is and their indicators. Biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability education should also be taught in secondary and tertiary institutions to probably change the orientation of the younger population towards environmental issues.
  2. Policies: We should adopt international, national, regional, sub-regional policies to address climate change and also revise and harmonize policies on climate change in the country.
  3. Revive and strengthen the development of river and Lake Basins to assist in the development and protection of our marine, fishes, plants and animals in the country.
  4. Ensuring that corporation and other multi-nationals assume full responsibility for the environmental impacts of their activities by adopting sustainable practices.
  5. Set up committees to monitor and regulate activities within the communities which would check climate change as well as encourage activities that might mitigate the change.
  6. Research: we should carry out researches on the epidemiology of infectious diseases that will probably be affected by climate change.  The best will be to incorporate research on the effect of climate change into existing infrastructures, such as the well known Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the WHO.
  7. Encourage and follow up immunization for preventing human suffering that could otherwise occur as a result of climate change.
  8.  Agricultural practices should be stream lined to be in consonance with best practices to negate dire consequences of climate change. 

This piece is written by DRs J. E. ASUQUO AND E.E ETIM, both of the Department Of Chemistry, University Of Uyo, Akwaibom state, Nigeria.
photo credit: www.epa.gov

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