We’ve talked about climate change for years, it’s a subject that gathers together heads of state, is the stuff of promises in international treaties, and impacts everyone’s daily lives. We recycle our shopping bags, talk about our carbon footprint, and in more extreme circumstances lose our homes and livelihoods due to floods. Yet it is still one of the most significant health challenges of our century.
Between 2030 and 2050, the World Health Organization (WHO) expects that climate change will cause nearly 250,000 additional deaths annually: 48,000 due to diarrhea, 60,000 to malaria, 95,000 to undernourishment of children, and 38,000 to heat exposure among elderly people.1
The devastating effects of a heatwave on human health are well known, including an increased number of deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, particularly among the elderly. In Europe, an additional 70,000 deaths were attributed to a heat wave during the summer of 2003.
The obvious direct effects of climate change include increased stress from heat, floods, drought and more extreme events such as storms, but there are also more indirect effects, such as air pollution, the spread of diseases transmitted by carriers such as mosquitoes, population displacements and post-traumatic stress caused by natural disasters.
As climate change continues, our planet could be a very different and harsh place to live in the future. Over the coming years, it could lead to land degradation with available agricultural land falling sharply by 2050. It could also provoke dwindling water resources. The gap between water needs and available resources could reach 40% in the coming decades, with serious consequences on people’s ability to feed themselves and consequently their health.
All of us are affected by climate change, but as is most often the case the impact is even more serious for vulnerable populations in emerging countries, where the health infrastructure is less robust and the areas affected are particularly large. Such is the case for parts of Asia, such as Bangladesh, and Sub-Saharan Africa where drought has resulted in decreased food resources.
In only two years’ time, by 2020, it is expected that 60 million people could migrate from impacted regions of sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and Europe, which will have a hugely negative impact on the already unmanageable global immigration crisis.
Diseases Influenced by Climate Change
Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
The risks of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are increased by high heat and air pollution. The heatwaves that caused many deaths among the elderly (70,000 in Europe in 2003) are the most visible examples. Pollution also tends to increase the risk of asthma attacks. The WHO estimates that there are currently 235 million asthmatics in the world. It is the most common chronic disease in children, but most deaths occur in adults.
Air pollution is currently responsible for seven million premature deaths a year, according to the WHO. Respiratory and dermatological problems have increased significantly in recent decades. These diseases are believed to be caused by increased pollution as pollen becomes more virulent with CO2 emissions, their diffusion time is also increased.
Vector Borne Diseases
Vector Borne Diseases are illnesses transmitted by carriers and are the subject of particular focus. With global warming, mosquitoes are spreading geographically and the prevalence of certain diseases such as dengue or the viral disease, chikungunya, could become much more significant. Already, researchers estimate that the ability of dengue-carrying mosquitos to transmit infection has increased by 9.4% since 1950. In Cambodia, for example, a region where the rainy season was longer this year, there is a very clear correlation with a surge in malaria.
Viruses such as Flu do not withstand extreme temperatures and fluctuations and tend to be present for a relatively short period of time. A less obvious demarcation between seasons can cause temperatures to remain more constant. As a result, seasonal illnesses could become more widespread throughout the year.
Fighting for the Future
By the end of the century, if we have not succeeded in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the global temperature of the planet will increase by more than 4.5°C with an alarming consequence on the environment and the global population. So the current challenge is to limit this global increase to 2°C.
Most of us are aware of measures that can be taken to reduce emissions, adopting cleaner sources of energy and increasing the use of public transport are just some of the tangible actions that can help reduce air pollution.
International organizations are also increasingly aware of their carbon footprint. Through its Planet Mobilization program, Sanofi is committed to fighting the effects of climate disruption and has put in place concrete actions that cover the entire lifecycle of a product, from R & D, manufacturing, transportation, and marketing, to the use of the drug by the patient and the disposal of unused or expired pharmaceuticals products.
Sanofi’s responsibility for its actions and their impact on people’s health means it is particularly active in the management of energy and its carbon footprint, water, waste, pharmaceuticals in the environment and biodiversity.