By Oghenekevwe Christopher Oghenechovwen
Beautiful, patterned white lines and detailed symbols traced the walls of the room. Inside there, in Gbolaka-Ta village, young Liberian girl Hawa Singbeh almost died from Ebola in 2015 – the same room she was born in. Her brother and sister did not survive this virus.
The most complex and widespread Ebola virus disease outbreak in history occurred in six West Africa nations, from 2013 to 2016. Ebola, which spreads by contact with body fluids of infected humans and handling or eating infected primates, is a violent haemorrhagic fever that leads to internal and external bleeding and organ failure.
Data from World Health Organization tells us that the “Ebola epidemic claimed the lives of more than 11, 300 people and infected over 28, 500” in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, and Guinea. Under a rapid-containment scenario, West Africa’s estimated GDP lost to Ebola by 2015 was $1.6 billion. In Sierra Leone alone, federal authorities said the impact resulted in an economic deflation by 30 percent.
For example, Nigeria last year experienced deadly outbreaks of Lassa fever, meningitis, and Monkeypox. Monkeypox is a rare disease that largely resolves itself (no specific treatment or vaccine available), and has milder symptoms in humans similar to those previously manifested in smallpox patients. In 1971, there were two Monkeypox cases in Nigeria. And only a single case was recorded seven years after. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, in October 2017, confirmed a total of 94 cases from eleven states and the Federal Capital Territory.
When one goes far beyond superficial observation on how these increasing viruses are spread and their season of occurrence, real associations between rising global temperatures, human-animal proximity, and public health effect can be documented.
In a 2015 research paper published in Science and co-authored by 18 leading scientists and stakeholders, Johan Rockström reveals that humanity has sprinted past four out of nine “planetary boundaries” – crucial limits for keeping earth stable and hospitable. People are forcing earth into uncertain and dangerous territory – driving up global temperatures, clear-cutting original forests, dumping fertilizers into rivers and oceans and forcing animals, plants and other organisms towards extinction. Rockström, who had the idea of planetary boundaries back in 2007, is executive director at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Today’s numbers on the state of the planet shows that carbon dioxide (an important greenhouse gas that causes climate change) levels are unsafe at 400 parts per million and climbing, 16 percent of biodiversity has been lost around the world, and instead of conserving at least 75 percent of forests, only 62 percent are left due to deforestation and other land use changes.
Perhaps, public health is the most unevaluated human face of climate change. And compelled by warming and instability, our climate is playing a tremendous part in perpetuating the global emergence, resurgence and spread of infectious diseases.
Most infectious diseases have three components: a pathogen, a host, and a transmission environment. Some viruses are pathogens since they are examples of disease-producing agents. Host refers to living animal or plant that supports and nourishes disease pathogens. While transmission environment involves the indirect and direct distribution or spread route of disease.
A 2002 study published in Science shows that temperature can influence the reproduction and development of pathogens. According to Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Centre for Health and the Global Environment scholar at Harvard University, “all pathogenic viruses…and parasites are temperature sensitive.” For example, coinciding with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, global temperature in the months of May had anomalies from 2014 up to 2017. Put simply by Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), each May in these years were the top 3 hottest in 137 years of modern, global temperature record–keeping.
The biggest misconception about climate change is that everything, everywhere gets warmer. However, it is necessary to know that temperature change over land and water may or may not restrict the development and distribution of viral diseases. This depends on their distinctive temperature thresholds.
Furthermore, extreme positive shifts in rainfall amount – often driven by climate change – plays a quiet role in the development of select disease pathogens, as continuous, heavy rain may mix sediments in water and land upwards, leading to the accumulation of fecal microorganisms at surface levels.
Human-animal proximity and close interaction are also likely to support the development, survival, and redistribution of infectious diseases. In this case, intermittent connections of these diseases with wildlife, extreme weather events, and meteorological hazards are seen.
Jungles and deep, unexplored areas are sometimes the natural reservoirs of an infectious disease or the habitat of host animals. People are pushed to these areas from their original homes; as a result of droughts, famines, heatwaves, and floods; for survival and in pursuit of favourable living conditions. When we migrate to these areas, we deforest to commercially farm cash crops, site manufacturing industries, construct roads, and so on. We alter the habitats of reservoirs and hosts. During hazards, for example, rodents that hosts Lassa virus may enter homes to look for food and transmit it to humans, leading to Lassa fever cases. In peri-urban populations of low-income countries, the risk factors for Swamp fever include flooding of open gutters and streets.
“Rising global temperatures would have a catastrophic effect on human health and patterns of infections will change”, Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Environment, Usman Jubril, says.
But we can lessen the extent of this foreseen, catastrophic effect.
Through academic research and science-based methods to meaningfully understand the impacts of climate change (including extreme weather events and meteorological hazards) on public health, especially viral diseases; investing more in surveillance, monitoring and early warning systems; practising open information and experience sharing; and building the capacities of vulnerable populations via campaigns and outreaches, we can help deliver a healthier and sustainable tomorrow for Hawa Singbeh. For everyone.
This piece was originally published on Ynaija.
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