Impact of regional climate change on human health


The World Health Organisation estimates that the warming and precipitation trends due to anthropogenic climate change of the past 30 years already claim over 150,000 lives annually. Many prevalent human diseases are linked to climate fluctuations, from cardiovascular mortality and respiratory illnesses due to heatwaves, to altered transmission of infectious diseases and malnutrition from crop failures. Uncertainty remains in attributing the expansion or resurgence of diseases to climate change, owing to lack of long-term, high-quality data sets as well as the large influence of socio-economic factors and changes in immunity and drug resistance. Here we review the growing evidence that climate–health relationships pose increasing health risks under future projections of climate change and that the warming trend over recent decades has already contributed to increased morbidity and mortality in many regions of the world. Potentially vulnerable regions include the temperate latitudes, which are projected to warm disproportionately, the regions around the Pacific and Indian oceans that are currently subjected to large rainfall variability due to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation sub-Saharan Africa and sprawling cities where the urban heat island effect could intensify extreme climatic events.

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Figure 1: Correlation between simulated, climate-driven variations in Aedes aegypti mosquito density and observed variations in dengue and DHF cases.
Figure 2: WHO estimated mortality (per million people) attributable to climate change by the year 2000.
Figure 3: Simulated ozone air pollution over the eastern United States by using a downscaled climate model linked to a regional air pollution model.


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We thank contributors to the climate change portion of the WHO Global Burden of Disease Assessment led by T. McMichael for the data and analysis incorporated into Table 1 and Fig. 2. For constructing figures and tables and assisting in manuscript preparation, we thank S. Olson, E. Sowatzke, M. Sternitzky and D. Zaks. We thank C. Tebaldi for providing technical information on the 2003 European heatwave, and C. Hogrefe for providing Fig. 3. We also thank M. Pascual and J. Ahumada for assistance with manuscript revisions. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the World Health Organization.

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Patz, J., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Holloway, T. et al. Impact of regional climate change on human health. Nature 438, 310–317 (2005).

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