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Climate Change and Healthcare's Interconnection

We are currently facing a world-wide crisis, and no, it is not COVID-19. Amidst this global pandemic, we are forgetting that our planet is in danger by the threat of climate change. It is most likely, that you have heard of climate change and the horrific impacts it has caused in the world. But in case not, climate change is when the usual weather changes in a place. Many countries are finding that their average climate is warming up because of how badly humans have treated the planet. This is causing glaciers to melt, animals to lose their homes and entire cities to sink and flood. Unfortunately, climate change also impacts healthcare. Climate change effects Peru’s healthcare in three different ways - it causes a rise in vector borne diseases, stresses out the healthcare system, and leads to droughts. 

Firstly, climate change causes more cases of vector borne diseases. Vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases and more than a million people die of vector borne diseases annually. By definition, a vector borne disease is given to a human or animal through a bite by blood-feeding arthropods, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.  Diseases such as Carrion's disease and yellow fever have been rising in Peru, especially in the mountainsides - both are vector borne. When Dr. Larry Laughlin, dean of the school of medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., compared the times of the outbreaks with the climate change data, he found that the outbreaks were happening at the same time that the ocean current started becoming warmer.

So how does climate change affect vector borne diseases in Peru? If more of these insects come to Peru because of warmer weather then the amount of vector borne diseases rise.

 Secondly, climate change is causing Peru’s healthcare resources to run out.

In Peru, 29,144 cases of dengue fever have already been reported this year, which is a 263% increase in cases from last year.

As Peru’s climate gets warmer, more mosquitos will come, which leads to an increase in dengue fever cases. Warmer weather can also make it easier for the insects that carry this disease to hatch eggs. Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries dengue, can survive in a broad range of temperatures from 5°C to 42°C, although temperatures below 20° C can reduce or prevent eggs from hatching. Dengue is so vulnerable to temperature changes - it is estimated for regions where dengue is already present, a mean temperature increase of about 1°C increases the aggregate epidemic risk by an average of 31% to 47%. This huge amount of dengue cases along with COVID-19 depletes Peru’s healthcare resources  Additionally, in many rural parts of Peru, farmers have to move to the cities because the rising temperatures are causing crops  to dry out. This puts more of a strain on the city's healthcare, which in Peru are already understaffed and underfunded. 

Map of dengue outbreaks in Peru( Wikipedia)

Lastly, climate change is causing severe droughts in Peru. The Peruvian Andes are home to 70% of the world's tropical glaciers, but unfortunately, they are melting at a rapid rate. Over the past 35 years, 22% of Peru's glaciers have melted away, which represents seven billion m³ of water. This has caused a high increase in droughts and floods, which directly affects all ten million Peruvians who reside in Lima. As mentioned earlier, this is also causing crops to dry out which could potentially lead to a famine. Three million Peruvians lack access to clean or running water. The treated water in Peru that comes out of the tap is very high in chlorine which can increase the risk of certain cancers.

The best and most logical way to stop this problem is to slowly bring the temperature of Peru back to what it was 25 years ago. This would essentially be reversing climate change and stopping it. Unfortunately, at the rate that the temperature of our planet is rising we will simply be making climate change worse.  But, there are simple tasks you can do to help - turn off water taps when you are not using them, carpool, turn off lights, etc. If everyone applied these small changes into their everyday routines we could save thousands of lives.

Article Credit: Diya Mehta

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