Mapping Global Health and Climate Change

Jordan is currently a Fall 2012 intern with the ACTION Secretariat where he is supporting TB advocacy efforts. Opinions below are solely those of the author.

I have two loves. I love to study infectious diseases but environmental health has been a long time crush.

On Tuesday, in the midst of Hurricane Sandy’s destructive tour of the American northeast, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released their joint publication “Atlas of Health and Climate”.  My two passions are finally one.

The report combines meteorological data from the WMO with WHO data for known global disease patterns to track the effects of climate change and radical climate events on disease trends and outbreaks. Infectious conditions such as malaria, diarrhea, meningitis, and dengue fever are covered in addition to the health concerns caused by weather events such as droughts, floods, and hurricanes.

I have long regarded the environment as one of the most critical determinants of health. Unfortunately, the world faces a situation of poor environmental justice. Those most affected by climate change are frequently those whose voices are silent in the international arena.  They are often the poorest people in the poorest countries with flimsy infrastructure for housing and health.

This past week, the heavy rains and destruction Haiti suffered due to Hurricane Sandy are already breeding outbreaks of cholera and malaria. Storms contaminate water supplies even further, spawning even more diarrheal diseases. Stagnant puddles left over from heavy rains are prime breeding grounds for the Anopheles mosquito, which spreads malaria.

By incorporating weather and disease patterns, this atlas is a step forward for predicting and preemptively addressing future disease. With this information, we can more efficiently vaccinate children against diarrheal diseases in to-be-affected areas, prepare the public health infrastructure to adequately respond following climate events, and support organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria to more effectively address global health concerns like malaria.