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Climate Change: a Matter of Public Health

Women, babies, Ekwendeni Mission Hospital, Mzimba District, Malawi
Women and newborn babies are cared for at Ekwendeni Mission Hospital, in the Mzimba District, Malawi. Photo: Gates Foundation/Flickr.

Over the years, people have tried to cast climate change as an environmental issue, a social justice issue and a development issue. Madeleine Thomson of The Earth Institute’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society argues climate change can be understood much better if we consider it an issue of global public health — one that should concern us all.

Scientists have ramped up their understanding of how climate can affect the distribution and occurrence of infectious diseases and other menaces to public health. In the United States, for example, the worry has been that climate change could expand the range of Lyme disease, West Nile virus and Dengue fever. In developing countries, the focus has been largely on malaria. But the U.S has sophisticated systems in place for both health surveillance and climate monitoring, and has high quality, long-term records of both. In many other parts of the world, the situation is far different:

“This might seem surprising in an era of seemingly endless data streams, but in many developing countries, basic infectious disease outbreak data is severely lacking,” Thomson says. “…Fortunately, this is beginning to change as the new international development agenda promotes new investments in observations, data management, data analysis and data-informed national decision-making.”

“Health is the human face of climate change,” Thompson says. Gathering the data underlying that connection, and understanding how to use it, will help us to better respond.

Read Thompson’s full article on the IRI web site.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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