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  • Climate change may be century's greatest health threat


Countries in the developing world lack essential information about their vulnerability to climate change and must develop their own strategies to tackle the consequences of a warmer world, health researchers have urged.

Their conclusions form part of a collaborative report on the effects of climate change on health from The Lancet medical journal and the UK-based University College London, published this week (14 May).

The report outlines the main threats to health from climate change: changing patterns of disease and mortality food, water and sanitation; vulnerable shelter and human settlements; and increased extreme events and migration.

Climate change is a health problem, not just an environmental issue — and the poorer countries are going to see its greatest effects, say the authors.

Africa and South Asia will suffer 500 times the detrimental effects of climate on the health of their people than the developed world will, but information is scarce, says Anthony Costello, lead author of the research and professor of international child health from the University College London Institute for Global Health.

"Not a single country in Africa has done a health impact assessment for climate change. And that should be done urgently," he told SciDev.Net.

He adds that more accurate information is also needed on how crops will respond to climate change, the impact on access to and storage of water, and the effects of events such as hurricanes and heat waves on populations. Currently, financial and technical constraints prevent many developing countries from doing widespread meteorological monitoring.

Strengthening capacity for surveillance and information in health systems is essential, says the report. And developing countries must improve research and technology development if the world is to avoid exacerbating existing health inequities.

The authors say that developing countries should provide public funding for research to stimulate local innovation, and they also highlight the importance of technology transfer from the North.

Costello says that concentrating on the needs of developing countries is also a major opportunity to enhance global cooperation between numerous sectors, from engineers to economists.   

"Lawyers can help in the important issues of drug research," he says. "Technology development must be encouraged in poorer countries and they must be given equal legal rights for whatever they discover."

Link to full report in The Lancet*

Link to audio file of The Lancet interview with Anthony Costello [17.5MB]

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