Copenhagen 2009

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Climate change and health: new impetus for better understanding of the linkages between climate variability and disease outcomes

11 Dec 2009

Posted by: Stephen Connor

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The publication of the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report led to a rapid escalation of interest among the Global Health Community. In recognition of this, the community has begun to explore and advocate for strategies to “climate proof” health, as a means to protect and further hard-won development gains. Climate and Health was the focus of World Health Day in 2008 and a Special Resolution on Protecting Human Health from Climate Change was ratified by the 61st World Health Assembly. Follow-on reports include a Lancet commissioned study carried out by University College London (1) and another from WHO (2). The authors call for a wide-sweeping coalition of socio-economic development agencies ready to take forward the agenda of a new public health movement appropriate to managing to the scale of the problem, coupled with applied interdisciplinary research to help maximize the public health benefits of decisions taken outside the health sector.

In furthering these research requirements, a meeting was held in Geneva last week to elucidate the relative importance of climate-environmental-social drivers of the major vector-borne diseases that impact on the health of the world’s poor. The meeting: “Effects of Environmental and Climate Change on Major Disease Vectors and Vector-Borne Diseases: Current Evidence and Research Priorities” was an informal expert consultation convened by the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR).

It was apparent from the discussions that the climate-environmental-social determinants of major vector-borne diseases vary greatly over time, by disease and by region. If health services are to be adaptive to climate change, then they must be enabled to better understand the linkages between the drivers of disease and their outcomes, in order to design and implement more effective and responsive control strategies. This will require concerted research capacity building and training. Such initiatives will need to be truly interdisciplinary and must enable effective partnership across climate and environmental services and public health services. Climate services are increasingly open to joint research into societal benefit areas, such as public health. This was clearly evident at the World Climate Conference held in Geneva in September 2009, where WHO and WMO gathered their partners to promote the development of Climate Services for Public Health.

Recognition of these vital research requirements and the benefits they will have for more effective health care are vitally important considerations for the discussions in Copenhagen this week and we look forward to concerted multilateral support to such initiatives.

Stephen J. Connor is a Senior Research Scientist based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, New York – a WHO Collaborating Centre on Climate Sensitive Diseases.

1. Costello A et al (2009). Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet; 373(9676):1693-1733.
2. World Health Organization (2009). Protecting health from climate change: Global research priorities. WHO, Geneva. Available online: http://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/9789241598187/en/index.html.

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