The rising heat and weather associated with climate change make it the "biggest global health threat of the 21st century," with hundreds of millions of people already suffering in the past two decades, doctors said on Wednesday.
Scientists and health experts said that the impacts of climate change – from heat waves to storms, floods and fires – pushed and threatened to overwhelm health systems.
"That's what really keeps me at night," said Nick Watts, executive director of Lancet Countdown, an annual report that tracks the link between public health and climate change.
Storms and floods, for example, not only cause direct injuries, but can also shut down hospitals, encourage disease outbreaks, and produce long-lasting mental health problems because people are losing their homes, he said.
Forest fires, in a similar way, fight and eradicate people, but also dramatically exacerbate air pollution in broad areas.
California's recent drought-fueled fires cost more than 80 lives, but have also contaminated air east of Massachusetts, said Gina McCarthy, former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, now at Harvard Public Health School.
Christie Ebi, professor of global health at the University of Washington, said that at the same time they are related to health related climate change. "We see them coming to all communities at the same time," she said.
The Lancet report, produced by doctors, academics and experts from 27 organizations around the world, called for rapid action to tackle climate change and prepare global health systems for ever-increasing challenges.
"Climate change that changes rapidly has enormous implications for every aspect of human life, exposing vulnerable populations to extreme weather conditions, changing patterns of contagious disease and endangering food safety, safe drinking water and clean air," she warned.
Last year, 157 million people around the world were exposed to thermal waves in the year 2000, according to a report.
Time has resulted in a loss of 153 billion hours of work in 2017, a 60 percent jump since 2000, as workers in agriculture, agriculture and other industries have rejected tools, often distorting family income.
In India, heat has resulted in a reduction in working hours by nearly 7 percent in 2017, Watts said.
Rich countries also see the effects of heat, the report says.
For example, Europe and the eastern Mediterranean appear more vulnerable than Africa and Southeast Asia, she said.
This is mainly because so many elderly people – especially at risk – live in cities that take on heat and may be warmer than surrounding areas, the report says.
For example, England and Wales saw more 700 deaths in June and July this year than was normal for 15-day heat, Watts said.
Renee Salas, an emergency medical aid practitioner at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States, and a report author, said she had recently treated a 30-year-old man who was dropped by a heat stroke while trying to work two construction jobs.
"Keep in mind that there is a personal story for each statistic," she emphasized. Such medical cases are "often hidden human costs of climate change," she added.
Glad and sickness
Warming conditions associated with climate change increase the range of mosquito-induced diseases such as dengue fever and other health threats, the report says.
Since 1950, the Baltic region recorded a 24 percent rise in cholera-safe coastal areas, while in sub-Saharan Africa, areas where malaria survivors have been infected expanded by 27 percent.
Stubborn conditions may also give some microorganisms that cause the disease more antibiotic resistance, Salas said.
And the high temperature seems to limit the maximum harvest of agricultural land in all regions of the world, reversing the earlier trend towards ever increasing winter, the report says. Abi, of the University of Washington said that increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reduces nutrients in cereals, affecting the risk of malnutrition even those who have enough to eat.
Meanwhile, mental health threats – from children who care about their future in the world of overheating families under the stress of disaster losses – are growing, she said.
Acting quickly to stop climate change – whether you switch to clean energy, or to attract more people to walk and use bicycles – will reduce the cost of health care by the same amount of money needed to reduce emissions, he told Abi.
"Most mitigation policies are good for health and are now good for health," she said.
This story was released with the permission of Thomson Reuters Foundation, charitable Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, climate change, elasticity, women's rights, trade and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.
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