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Authors: David P. Rogers1, Melvyn A. Shapiro2, Gilbert Brunet3, Jean-Claude Cohen4, Stephen J. Connor5, Adama Alhassane Diallo6, Wayne Elliott7, Kan Haidong8, Simon Hales9, Debbie Hemming7, Isabelle Jeanne10, Murielle Lafaye11, Zilore Mumba6, Nirivolona Raholijao12, Fanjosa Rakotomanana13, Hiwot Teka14, Juli Trtanj15, Pai-Yei Whung16
Date: July 23 2009
Good health is one of the primary aspirations of human social development. Consequently, health indicators are key components of human development indices – for example, in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), by which we measure progress toward sustainable development (United Nations 2006). Health is influenced by environmental, seasonal and climatic conditions. While Hippocrates recognized this; it is only recently that climate and health interactions have become a focus of community and public health services.
The international community is now exploring and advocating for strategies to address the climate risks to health as a means to protect and further development gains. This was recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the 2008 World Health Day Protecting Health from Climate Change (WHO, 2009) and the recent resolution on climate and health of the 61st World Health Assembly (WHO, 2008). This resolution built on previous efforts, including that of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report and a growing collection of documentation commissioned by WHO, WMO, UNEP, and FAO (Corvalan et al., 2005; Parry et al., 2007; Menne and Ebi, 2006; WHO, 1992).
Climate influences health through a number of mechanisms. This impact may be direct, through cold or heat stress, or indirect via impacts on natural systems. Climate and weather extremes cause floods, drought, food insecurity, social disruption, population displacement, and favour communicable diseases (e.g., Menne et al. 2008). The World Health Organization (WHO) recently identified 14 major climate sensitive communicable diseases, including malaria, meningitis, cholera and dengue. WHO also acknowledges that many non-communicable coronary and respiratory diseases are climate sensitive.
WHO advocates the development of climate-informed early warning systems for certain climate related health hazards. Improving routine health surveillance is essential, and the opportunities now exist to create more effective partnerships to integrate climate factors effectively. Achieving this depend on the explicit involvement of the WHO in global initiatives aimed at improving the well-being of societies through improved access to climate information and services, and in particular in the opportunity to develop further climate services for the public health sector.
This paper describes advances and selected critical uncertainties in weather and climate prediction, relevant to the health sector. New opportunities exist for public health professionals to integrate weather and climate-related information into local and regional risk management plans to reduce the detrimental health effects of hazards, including hazards as diverse as tropical cyclones, floods, heat waves and cold spells, smog, wildfires, droughts and communicable disease epidemics (Ebi and Schmier 2005, Kuhn et al. 2004). In addition, tele-epidemiology, a new conceptual approach using remote sensing is an opportunity to provide users with innovative and tailored products (Vignolles et al. 2009).
On the national level, public service platforms for early warning can encourage cross-sectoral interaction. At the same time, research and training opportunities exist across all relevant disciplines. Taking advantage of these opportunities will make climate and other environmental information more accessible and operationally useful within public health services.
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