Climate change is having an impact on human health by increasing the number of people exposed to malaria and other diseases, the World Health Organization said Monday at a three-day workshop held at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. Delegates from almost 190 countries are discussing ways to combat the consequences of global warming.
According to WHO, rising temperatures already have been linked to the deaths of more than one million people worldwide since 2000. Countries, including Nepal and Bhutan, have reported malaria cases for the first time in higher elevations, likely because higher temperatures are increasing the size of mosquito populations, the AP/Tribune
In related news, malaria epidemics in the highlands of Papua New Guinea are "now basically happening every year" as a result of global warming, Ivo Mueller, a scientist at the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research, said recently, the AP/Google.com reports. WHO recorded 4,986 malaria cases in the country's Western Highlands province in 2005, compared with 638 cases in 2000. About 40% of Papua New Guineans live in the highlands, where there used to be "no malaria or low epidemic outbreaks," Mueller said. He said that if predictions of temperature increases of three to five degrees Fahrenheit prove true, "perhaps two million people would go from a low- or no-risk area to considerable risk." Malaria parasites need at least 64 degrees Fahrenheit to develop, but scientists have found that a small rise in temperature can increase significantly the size of mosquito populations, the AP/Google.com reports.
Mueller said that population movement, deforestation, inadequate health care systems and other factors can influence the spread of malaria. This year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in its annual report that "despite the known causal links between climate and malaria transmission dynamics, there is still much uncertainty about the potential impact of climate change on malaria at local and global scales." However, there is "no question ... if you put climate change into the equation and the climate change becomes more favorable, the mosquitoes' numbers go up, and you're going to have more and more transmission," Mueller said.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation