With climate change, tackling new disease scenarios.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in March, carries a dire message: climate change is significantly elevating the global risk of infectious diseases.
The intricate connection between climate and disease becomes more evident with each passing year. For example, mosquito-borne diseases no longer follow their expected seasonal patterns, and conditions like dengue now exhibit multiple peaks throughout the year. Variations in temperature, rainfall, and humidity disrupt the usual patterns of disease transmission, affecting the distribution of disease-carrying vectors and their animal hosts. Furthermore, heat has been shown to alter the genetic structure of pathogens, influencing their infectivity and virulence.
GS-02, GS-01 (Health, Climate change, Physical geography)
- Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)
- Non-communicable diseases
Discuss the impact of climate change on the prevalence and transmission of infectious diseases, highlighting the vulnerabilities and challenges it poses to public health systems. (250 words)
Dimensions of the Article:
- Climate Change and Disease Dynamics
- Habitat Loss and Human-Animal Interaction
- Expanding Spectrum of Infectious Agents
- Ecosystem Disruptions
- India’s Vulnerability
- Surveillance and Reporting
Climate Change and Disease Dynamics
- The intricate relationship between climate and infectious diseases is increasingly evident. The disruption of expected disease patterns, such as the altered periodicity of mosquito-borne diseases, highlights the influence of climate variables like temperature, precipitation, and humidity.
- These factors not only affect disease transmission but also impact the distribution of disease vectors and their animal reservoirs.
Habitat Loss and Human-Animal Interaction
- Habitat loss forces disease-carrying animals into closer proximity to human habitats, raising the risk of human-animal interaction and the transfer of pathogens from wildlife to humans.
- This phenomenon is exemplified by the Nipah virus outbreaks in Kerala. The transfer of viruses from animals to humans, even those that are harmless to animals, can lead to fatal consequences for humans.
Expanding Spectrum of Infectious Agents
- The changing climate has broadened the spectrum of infectious agents threatening human populations. More than half of all known infectious diseases that affect humans worsen as climate patterns change.
- Diseases are finding new transmission routes, including through environmental sources, medical tourism, and previously reliable food and water sources.
- Climate change is not only affecting infectious diseases but also transforming ecosystems.
- The introduction of invasive species and the expansion of existing life forms disrupt complex ecosystems, confounding the ability of ecologists and epidemiologists to predict disease outbreaks.
- India is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change on health. Early summers and erratic monsoons have led to water scarcity across regions like the Gangetic plains and Kerala.
- These climatic shifts have contributed to severe health crises, including dengue epidemics in Dhaka and Kolkata, as well as the Nipah outbreak in Kerala.
Surveillance and Reporting
- Detecting and responding to changing disease scenarios require an overhaul of surveillance and reporting strategies. While India has made progress in reporting outbreaks over the past two decades, the existing surveillance systems are not equipped to handle emerging disease challenges.
- The Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) and the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP) have been introduced to improve disease monitoring but have not fully met expectations.
- One Health Approach: This integrates the monitoring of human, animal, plant, and environmental health, recognizing the interconnectedness of these elements. It encompasses the management of zoonotic diseases, neglected tropical diseases, vector-borne diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and environmental contamination.
- Synergy Among Government Departments: India needs to establish greater synergy among various government departments, including animal husbandry, forest and wildlife, municipal corporations, and public health agencies. These entities must collaborate to build robust surveillance systems capable of responding to emerging disease threats.
- Data Sharing and Coordination: Building trust and confidence among government agencies is essential for effective disease control. Agencies must share data and establish clear lines of responsibility. Effective coordination and management, especially with the involvement of external funding agencies like the World Bank, are imperative.