The global health threat of climate change

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Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Effects of climate change on health will affect most populations in the next decades and put the lives and wellbeing of billions of people at increased risk. During this century, earth’s average surface temperature rises are likely to exceed the safe threshold of 2°C above preindustrial average temperature. Rises will be greater at higher latitudes, with medium-risk scenarios predicting 2-3°C rises by 2090 and 4-5°C rises in northern Canada, Greenland, and Siberia. With this current situation, the whole of U.K. population is at risk considering the changing patterns of disease, water and food insecurity, vulnerable shelter and human settlements, extreme climatic events, and population growth and migration. Although vector-borne diseases will expand their reach and death tolls, especially among elderly people, will increase because of heat waves, the indirect effects of climate change on water, food security, and extreme climatic events are likely to have the biggest effect on global health (Prof A. Costello FRCPCH, S Ball BSc, C Patterson LLB). Aside from the bigger picture of climate change we still need to consider the leading global risk for mortality, Hypertension is responsible for 12.8% (7.5 million) of total deaths worldwide, according to a new report issued by the WHO. The report also identified hypertension as responsible for 3.8% of years of life lost due to premature death plus years of healthy life lost due to illness and disability (known as disability-adjusted life years) (Colin Mathers, PhD, coordinator for mortality and burden of disease at the WHO). Majority of the U.K. population is exposed to a total of 8 risk factors (hypertension, alcohol use, tobacco use, high body mass index, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, low fruit and vegetable intake, and physical inactivity) account for 61% of loss of healthy life years from cardiovascular diseases, and 61% of cardiovascular deaths. The same risk factors account for more than three fourths of deaths from ischemic and hypertensive heart disease. The Shift of affairs from national level to global status is influencing health challenges. On top of domestic problems, all countries must now deal with the international treat of transferring health risk. These new challenges are demanding forms of international cooperation, which, if developed, may also help to reconcile general national self-interest with international mutual interest. Economic globalization has been the fundamental driving force behind the overall process of globalization over the last two decades. It has been characterized both by a dramatic growth in the volume of cross-border flows and by major changes in their nature. International trade has grown at an accelerating pace – nearly 8.6% per year (Bull World Health Organ vol.79 no.9 Genebra 2001). We cannot underestimate the implications of these changes for health. In addition to their own domestic problems, all countries must now deal with the international transfer of risks. The most obvious case of the blurring of health frontiers is the transmission of communicable diseases. Again, this is not a new phenomenon per se.

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