Climate Change Poses Grave Health Risks For Vulnerable Populations – Experts

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Climate change

A recent compilation of papers in the Journal of Global Health has highlighted the significant health challenges posed by climate change, particularly for pregnant women, newborns, children, adolescents and the aged.

Despite these risks, the unique needs of these groups have largely been overlooked in climate change responses.

The papers synthesised scientific evidence concerning the health impacts of various climate-related hazards across different stages of life, including heatwaves, air pollution, wildfires and flooding. They underscore how climate-related health risks have been underestimated for these vulnerable populations, with potentially life-threatening consequences.

For instance, the papers draw attention to the correlation between extreme heat and adverse birth outcomes such as preterm births and stillbirths, along with increased risks of hypertension and gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Additionally, heat waves can impair cognitive function in children and adolescents and exacerbate heart and respiratory issues in older individuals.

Director of maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health and aging at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Anshu Banerjee emphasised that climate change is an immediate health threat, particularly for vulnerable groups. He stresses the urgent need for action to protect these populations.

Authored by experts from WHO and academia worldwide, the collection titled “Climate Change Across the Lifecourse,” outlined specific physical and mental health impacts associated with various climate hazards. These include adverse effects on birth outcomes, respiratory illnesses, and mental health issues resulting from natural disasters such as floods and wildfires.

While climate change affects everyone, vulnerable populations face disproportionate risks due to physiological factors and limited access to health services and social support. Measures to address these risks must be prioritised, including tailored adaptation strategies and continuity of health services during climate-related disasters.

Anayda Portela, a scientist at WHO and one of the authors, emphasised the importance of mitigating climate change and building resilience to protect health across all stages of life. She calls for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement measures that safeguard vulnerable populations.

The researchers aim to inform governments and programmes to address the health risks posed by climate change. They stress the need for tailored adaptation measures and proactive planning to ensure the well-being of vulnerable groups in the face of increasingly frequent climate emergencies.

With 2023 marking the warmest year on record and numerous climate-related disasters occurring worldwide, urgent action is needed to protect the health and well-being of vulnerable populations amidst the escalating threats posed by climate change.

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