Dr. Darshana Reddy, Senior Consultant – Internal Medicine, Altius Hospital, Bangalore.

World health day 2022 – theme – “Our planet, our health” Amid a pandemic, a polluted planet, increasing diseases like cancer, asthma, heart disease, on World Health Day 2022, WHO has claimed global attention on the interconnectedness between the planet and our health, urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being. Well-being societies are healthier societies.

Deforestation and rapid urbanization is progressing at a fast pace at the cost of our planet. Over 90% of people breathe unhealthy air due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, petroleum products, and nonrenewable wastes. When fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air, causing global warming. Rising temperatures increase the risk of extreme heat leading to headache, confusion, tiredness, and vomiting. Temperatures above 40 degrees result in heat strokes causing organ failure and hospitalization, sometimes even death.

Climate change makes it more likely for droughts and wildfires to lead to death from suffocation, burns, smoke inhalation, and respiratory and cardiovascular problems from smoke and ashes. Drought affects the yield of crops, disruption in the supply chain, and dietary diversity with a rise in market prices. These factors reduce overall food consumption, leading to macro and micronutrient deficiencies. Malnutrition and consequent disorders, like retarded child growth and development have been identified as one health threats.

“Extreme weather conditions, land degradation and scarcity of safe water are displacing people and affecting their health. Climate change is making floods and extreme rainfall more dangerous. Food-, water-, mosquitos- and vector-borne diseases spreading farther and faster than ever before. Water-borne & foodborne diseases like typhoid, hepatitis, dysentery caused by micro-organisms such as Salmonella, Vibrio cholera, Campylobacter, E.Coli, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Legionella, Yersinia, are some climate-dependent infections. The rise in temperature is associated with increased abundance, survival and transmission of micro-organisms. Scarcity of safe-water, reuse of wastewater, contamination of water sources facilitates transmission of infections.  Flooding causes disruption of sewage disposal, overcrowding, population displacement, poor hygiene and sanitation, subsequent spread of infections such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue and cholera which are all climate-sensitive infections due to the viability and geographical distribution of the mosquitoes and microorganisms that prefer a wetter, warmer planet. Two billion people lack safe drinking water and 8,29,000 people die from diarrhoea every year. “

Air pollution is another public health emergency that kills 13 people every minute due to lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. As a consequence of air pollution, various illnesses including respiratory tract diseases like rhinosinusitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), respiratory viral diseases like influenza are on a global rise due to poor air quality, ozone, extreme heat, desertification, dust storms, alteration in allergens, timing and duration of survival and transmission cycle of respiratory virus, alteration in bird migration.

Pollution and plastics are found in the highest mountains, at the bottom of our deepest oceans, and have made their way into our food chain. Consumption of highly processed, unhealthy foods and beverages are driving a pandemic of obesity, increasing the risks of cancer and heart disease. The production companies of such foods contribute to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

A Climate crisis is an emergency that demands action from all of us. We ought to aim at net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and each of us has a role to play. Making small changes in our day-to-day routine, being conscious about our consumption habits, aiming at reducing our carbon footprint as individuals, and pressuring those who represent us – our employers, our politicians – to move rapidly to a low-carbon world is achievable.

We only have one planet. We need it and it needs us. Let’s all strive for a healthy planet, a world where clean air, water and food are available to all with economies focused on health and well-being, cities live able and people have control over their health and the health of the planet. 

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