Published : Tuesday, 26 September, 2023 at 12:00 AM Count : 660
Noushin Mouli Waresi
�The clinic in our area was destroyed by the river erosion, so we do not have any health facilities', says Ronjina Begum a domestic worker, Char Gotiasham, Kurigram�.
As the world grapples with different pressing issues, from the ongoing pandemic to global inflation, one looming crisis threatens to overshadow them all: Climate Change. Though not getting enough attention from global population, climate change is in fact a present-day crisis with far-reaching consequences for our health and well-being.
The link between climate change and health is not a mere theoretical connection; it is a bleak reality that is affecting communities worldwide. Climate Change and global warming exacerbate healthcare challenges due to increased exposure and vulnerability of a significant portion of the population to environmental hazards. Currently, Bangladesh is bearing the brunt of this issue. From extreme weather events to shifting disease patterns, the impact of climate change on public health is undeniable and should command our immediate attention.
Bangladesh Health Watch recently conducted a research Voice titled, 'Voice of the Grassroots: Effects of Climate Change on Health'where different findings have come outthat illustrate how climate change issues are affecting the health life of the people. Some of the findings are discussed here.
Extreme Weather Events and Health Impacts: One of the most visible and immediate effects of climate change is the increase in extreme weather events. More frequent and severe cyclones, floods, heatwaves, and wildfires are becoming the new normal in several areas of Bangladesh. The researchhave hasshowed profound consequences for human health.
Heatwaves, for instance, can lead to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and exacerbation of pre-existing conditions. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, are particularly at risk. In addition, extreme heat can exacerbate air pollution, leading to respiratory problems and increased hospital admissions. The tragic events in recent years, where heatwaves have claimed lives and strained healthcare systems, serve as poignant reminders of the immediate health threats posed by climate change.
Food Insecurity and Malnutrition: Climate change also threatens food security and nutrition. Extreme weather patterns can lead to crop failures, reduced agricultural fields, and therefore food prices increase. For vulnerable populations of different regions of Bangladesh these disruptions can result in malnutrition and food insecurity. Malnutrition in turn, has long-lasting health consequences, particularly for children, affecting physical and cognitive development. High tide submerges settlements in Satkhira, Khulna, Barguna and Barisal, jeopardizing their lives. Hence their diets and food intake get disrupted. Particularly infant and young people.
Moreover, the stress of food scarcity can lead to social and political instability, further exacerbating health risks for affected populations and potentially leading to conflicts over declining resources.
Reproductive Health and Hygiene: The recent study also finds that for shrimp cultivation in coastal areas, particularly in Satkhira women reported to spend hours in waist-deep saline water; which frequently results in infections of the vaginal and other reproductive tracts. Emergency shelters in disaster-prone areas lack birthing facilities, delivery kits, and sanitary napkins. In congested emergency shelters, women manage menstruation using cloths or rags without having access to segregated toilets. Menstrual health taboos prevent women from openly requesting sanitary napkins or clean cloth. Disasters increase maternal mortality due to medical care and communication issues. An alarming number of women, including minors, found to use contraceptive pills as a strategy to stop menstruation, without being aware of the long-term consequences on their reproductive health. Char and other disaster-prone communities lack inexpensive sanitary napkins and reproductive healthcare.
Vector-Borne Diseases on the Rise:Another significant health concern linked to climate change is the spread of vector-borne diseases. Warming temperatures and altered precipitation patterns create favorable conditions for disease-carrying vectors, such as mosquitoes and ticks. This has led to the expansion of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, Lyme disease, and Zika virus into regions where they were previously uncommon.
For example, as temperatures rise, mosquitoes that carry diseases like malaria and dengue are able to survive in higher-altitude areas, putting previously unaffected populations at risk. This not only places an additional burden on healthcare systems but also poses economic challenges for affected communities.
Mental Health and Climate Anxiety:The psychological toll of climate change should not be underestimated. The loss of homes and livelihoods, and the uncertainty about the future can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
A Call to Action: The impact of climate change on health is not a distant threat. It is happening now, and it is affecting communities around the world. As we witness these changes unveiled to ourselves, it is imperative that we take meaningful action to mitigate the health risks associated with climate change. Some of the recommendations came from the study are given below-
Improve diagnosis and treatment for skin diseases, diarrhea, typhoid, and illnesses related to excessive salinity in some particular districts.
Enhance skills and training of medical professionals in disaster-prone areas and educate government officials on climate change. Implement advocacy programs to increase knowledge on diseases, reproductive health, and hygiene in relation to climate effects.
Cyclone shelters should provide SRHR protection and essential medical supplies. Integrate climate change into development agendas and horizontal programs. Foster collaboration between government, private, and NGO healthcare professionals. Utilize media to raise awareness and promote fair access to healthcare.
Additionally, investments in public health infrastructure and preparedness are crucial to mitigate the health effects of extreme weather events and the spread of vector-borne diseases.
Individuals can also play a role by reducing their carbon footprint, supporting sustainable practices, and advocating for climate action in their communities and governments. Climate change is a global challenge that requires collective action at all levels of society.
Non Government organization, private organization and public organization need to be aligned with the goal to combat climate crisis and create change in society.
In conclusion, climate change is not just an environmental issue; it is a considerable health crisis that is affecting us now. We must recognize the interconnectedness of our planet's health and our own well-being. By addressing the health impacts of climate change, we can build a more resilient and sustainable future for ourselves and for generations to come. The time for action is now, before the health consequences of climate change become even more devastating.
The writer works at Bangladesh Health Watch, Brac James P Grant School of Public Health, Brac University