Scientists: Climate and health research needed

Neville Nicholls Copyright: Jane Wu

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[MELBOURNE] Australian scientists have called for more research into the impact of climate change on human health.

Addressing the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne this week (18 April), Neville Nicholls, a professorial fellow in the regional climate group at Australia’s Monash University, said scientists know too little about how climate change will affect the spread of disease.

He said this limited the ability to predict future trends.

Tony McMichael, director of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, added that because mosquitoes breed faster in warmer temperatures, global warming could change the spread of insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria.

But he pointed out that climate change would have further influences on health outside of disease.

McMichael told SciDev.Net that prolonged drought would bring more mental illness in adults, and emotional and physical disorders in children.

He added that, "We should begin looking into the more serious impacts of global warming on food production and productivity of oceans".

At the conference, McMichael emphasised the need to identify vulnerable groups in different regions. He said demographic studies were needed into relevant health risks, such as malnutrition resulting from decreasing crop yields.

A recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that by 2050 wheat yields in northern China — home to more than 300 million people — will decline by 30 per cent.