By Samwel Doe Ouma

Experts have urged Journalists to position climate change as a public health crisis that needs to be integrated into existing health programs and policies.

Addressing the media in a breakfast meeting in Nairobi dubbed ‘enhancing public understanding of the health impacts of climate change in Kenya’ Prof William Ogara, associate professor in the department of public health, pharmacology and toxicology, University of Nairobi, said that there is a growing body of research showing that climate change is contributing to a wide range of health risks.

He adds that through planetary health approach, which is a recent and growing concept, there is a need to enhance ecological and epidemiological research and bring together the climate and health communities to deliver the evidence and policy options to respond to the climate crisis.

“Climate change is already   affecting vector borne disease transmission and spread and its impacts are likely to worsen,” he said adding, “in the face of ongoing climate change we must intensify efforts to prevent and control vector borne diseases.”

Potential effects of climate change on human health include higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illness, increased prevalence of vector-borne and waterborne diseases, food and water insecurity, and malnutrition.

He urged stakeholders to encourage integrated solutions to enable overlapping challenges, effective cross sector action plan and partnerships and ensuring policy coherence.

“Political will is critical……governments need to embrace an interdisciplinary planetary health approach,” he said.

Ogara emphasized that there is a relationship between climate change and vector borne diseases citing changing weather patterns creating conditions that facilitate alterations in the geographical range, seasonality and incidence of vector borne diseases in some regions for example the spread of malaria to highland areas in Kenya perceived before as a no malaria zone.

“Vector borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, schistomiasis, tick borne diseases, chikungunya, fellow fever and rift valley fever pose significant health impacts and are sensitive to a changing climatic condition such as precipitation, temperatures, and humidity which exert a strong lifecycle of the vectors such as mosquitoes,” he said.

Climate change is slowly taking a deadly toll on human health. According to WHO estimates, between 2030 and 2050 climate change is expected to cause approximately 250, 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.