Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Stella Hartinger: “South America Thinks About Climate Change, But Forgets Its Relationship With Health”

Stella Hartinger: "South America Thinks About Climate Change, But Forgets Its Relationship With Health"

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The most significant are the effects of climate change on human health: an increase in diseases such as dengue fever, respiratory problems due to fire, and malnutrition due to crop failure. However, these are also problems that are not talked about and little measured. Since 2015, global initiatives lancet countdownSupported by the Lancet, One of the most recognized medical journals, set out on a mission to track how global warming threatens public health by producing an annual report. final, entitled red code for a healthy future and published last year, found that deaths over 65 related to extreme heat reached a record high in 2019, reaching nearly 345,000 deaths.

It also gave other indications that, due to rising temperatures, months suitable for malaria transmission increased by 39% between the period 1950–1959 and 2010–2019, especially in countries with low Human Development Index.

In December of this year, for the first time, the initiative will publish a report produced and focused exclusively on South America, which employs more than 30 researchers. “We are proposing new indicators that work for this area, because the issue of adaptation is very important here. We also have health systems that sometimes have no water, electricity or internet,” says Peruvian doctor Stella Hartinger , says the director Lancet Countdown South America, America in an interview with Futura. Doctor in Epidemiology and Public Health from the University of Basel (Switzerland), he is one of the authors of the latest global report.

Stella Hartinger in Lima, Peru. Angela Ponce

ask. Are there any health and climate change indicators that you see as important to the South American landscape?

answer. Yes, everything that is unsafe and contagious is very important, especially for Amazon. We have also identified the issue of fire, which has been prominent in Chile and Argentina. With regard to heat and high temperatures, we are taking them into account while giving visibility to mortality and morbidity, as we have seen that there are not many studies on this topic in this area, there are many information gaps. In addition, we are researching whether the 12 countries whose adaptation plans we focus on consider health. And, well, we have more familiar indicators, like air quality, but making a distinction between indoors and outdoors. Ours is an area that still cooks with biomass, especially the most vulnerable. However, we still do not have a good strategy for access to clean technologies and fuels at home for all.

P. The global report also examines the resilience of health systems and the response of governments. Are you analyzing this for South America?

R. Yes, but we have found that, although there are emergency plans for climate change, they are not health-related. The benchmark in this area is usually emergency planning for an El Nio/La Nia event. But their plans do not consider water scarcity, food security, energy and health for infrastructure. Apart from this, we have also noticed that there are many customization plans which have not been budgeted.

P. Governments are changing in South America and some have entered with more climate and environmental discussions. Do you think the region is talking about the health impacts of climate change?

R. There is more talk about climate change, but we still need to link that convergence with health. Most of the adaptation and climate change plans are made by the ministries of the environment, which is fine, but they do not include the ministries of health. People think about the effects of climate change on biodiversity, ecological and water issues, but their relationship with health is forgotten. We do not say – and this is a mistake – that lack of food security will lead to malnutrition or that lack of water resources will lead to more diarrhea. But I like that politicians are already talking about climate change. This is an advantage that we have got and it has been happening for five years. There are some countries in the region that are carrying forward this narrative, although it is very difficult to speak in general terms, as South America is also very politically unstable, and this causes a lag in environmental governance.

P. And why is it difficult for us to generate and see these links between health and climate change?

R. Well, it’s hard to even generate those features, knowing what’s really going on. They are studies or measurements that, at times, are done only when disaster strikes, and there we can see what happens. Therefore more research is needed in this area. more data. The information has many shortcomings, but having them would be important.

P. Climate fiction is sometimes limited to themes that seem foreign to many: the melting of ice that affected polar bears or the extinction of species. Do you think having data on its impact on human health takes more action?

R. Well, I think this is an important point. Sure, climate change affects trees and bears, but that means it’s going to affect us too. And, again, the issue of prevention has not reached political discussion. So understanding climate change from health gives us more tools. If we worry already when we have ten dengue cases in the endemic area, what will happen when dengue reaches another thermal floor and affects thousands? The same happens with an increase in air quality-related deaths. So if someone gets emotional about the numbers and says, ‘They’re killing so many people,’ it would help.

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