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Climatic change behind surge in dengue cases

Published : 19 Oct 2023 10:19 PM

Although Bangladesh is a country which is known for remarkable healthcare and developmental progress, climate change is eroding the remarkable achievements of the country.

The climate change is affecting the population’s well-being, impeding poverty reduction, and hindering progress towards a net-zero future. The climatic changes are increasing disease vectors, evident in the 2022 surge in dengue cases linked to high rainfall and temperature in Dhaka. 

These were mentioned at a recent study report which was carried out by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Centre for Climate Change Economics. 

The study highlighted that a 46% increase in extreme weather events are evident in Bangladesh

In 2021, the summer season experienced a 0.49°C temperature rise, causing infants to face 12 additional heatwave days and leadto higher heat-related deaths. The study shows a 148% surge in heat-related fatalities among individuals aged 65 and above, resulting in 1,430 deaths during 2017-2021.

Dr. Shouro Dasgupta, Visiting Senior Fellow of Grantham Research Institute, LSE and one of the authors of the report, stated “Climate change threatens to reverse decades of Bangladesh’s remarkable progress in public health, especially in child and maternal health. Evidence-based policies that take into account local context can reduce many of these negative effects.”

 The report highlighted that Bangladesh’s public health is being seriously affected by climate change through disasters like droughts, floods, and cyclones, which are destroying land, damaging health facilities, and harming people. Vulnerable people, including the young, elderly, and those with health issues, suffer significantly during extreme heat and heatwaves. 

 Bangladesh sees high mortality rates due to respiratory infections, lung cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Shockingly, the death toll from ambient air pollution reached 101,500 in 2019 and 112,700 in 2020. 

 Moreover, air pollution is high in both rural and urban areas. 24,000 people in the Dhaka region alone were estimated to have died prematurely due to air pollution between 2005 and 2018. Additionally, women and children are more likely to be exposed to indoor air pollution because only 23% of the population has access to clean cooking fuels. 

 Professor Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, Chairman of Department of Environmental Science at Stamford University Bangladesh and Chairman of Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS); mentioned “Local heat wave drivers are influencing the upward trend of Global Climate Change. Due to this the number, intensity and extent of heat waves are increasing, on the other hand, the use of fossil fuels is accelerating both rising temperature and air pollution and creating multifaceted risks for public health.”

 Climate change is disrupting ecological systems, including floods, droughts, and changes in rainfall patterns are expected to negatively impact food, nutrition, and livelihoods in Bangladesh.  

 Study shows, food insecurity in Bangladesh is projected to increase by 7.4 percentage-point by 2041-2060. 

 Moreover, climatic changes are increasing disease vectors, evident in the 2022 surge in dengue cases linked to high rainfall and temperature in Dhaka. Dengue outbreaks are expected to worsen due to favourable climate conditions boosting mosquito populations in this country. Additionally, climate change is impacting mental health, contributing to conditions like anxiety and depression.

 The report highlighted those earlier policies like the Health and Population Sector Program (HPSP) focused on healthcare improvements without addressing climate change explicitly. 

 The initial National Health Policy (NHP) from 2000 lacked comprehensive support for chronic diseases, potentially reducing resilience to climate-induced heatwaves. The 2011 NHP saw revisions but no significant shift in focus. 

 Bangladesh's healthcare system faces inequality issues, with disparities in health indicators among wealthy and deprived households. 

 The Health Care Financing Strategy (20120-2032) aims to advance health financing but faces criticism due to depleting budgetary allocations hindering progress toward universal health coverage (UHC).

 Recent initiatives signal a shift toward climate-conscious health policies. 

 Bangladesh introduced the National Action Plan on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs), aiming to reduce black carbon emissions by 40% and methane emissions by 17% by 2030. The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) 2023-50 recognizes health's pivotal role in climate resilience, focusing on robust societies and ecosystems.

  Additionally, the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund, established in 2010, supports projects addressing climate vulnerability in health, water resources, agriculture, and disaster management.

 Bangladesh does have scope to build resilience to the changing climate, and to benefit from the health co-benefits of following a low-carbon growth pathway. Health co-benefits can arise through reduced air pollution, increased physical activity, and dietary change. Initiative has to be taken to mitigate pollution from the major local sources, including traditional cookstoves, traditional brick kilns, rice parboiling units, solid waste open burning, and transport vehicles. 

 The report highlighted that policies that tackle climate change can lead to both cost savings and health improvements, a "win-win" strategy for improving both health and climate conditions. Without effective adaptation measures, the negative health impacts of climate change will only increase in the coming decades. Moving forward, the challenge lies in swiftly implementing these policies, ensuring comprehensive healthcare coverage, and building a resilient nation. 

 While Bangladesh has historically prioritized public health since its independence in 1971, to effectively combat climate change's health impacts, comprehensive policies are essential. 

 Key areas of concern include the lack of green spaces in cities, rapid urbanization, dense populations, and heavy traffic. Developing green infrastructure and nature-based solutions, as outlined in the NAP 2023-2050, is crucial, although further efforts are needed to transform these proposals into sustainable initiatives. Implementing labor protection policies for outdoor workers is vital to safeguard them from heat stress, facilitating a just transition to a low-carbon economy. 

 Prof Dr Iqbal Kabir, PhD, Director, Climate Change and Health Promotion Unit, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated “Climate crisis is a big public health crisis for Bangladesh. Climate change is already taking a heavy toll on the health of millions across the Globe, from extreme weather events to air pollution and the increased prevalence of climate-sensitive diseases. We know, Bangladesh is taking initiatives to build a climate-resilient health system, hence, it the time to act and it is crucial that we swiftly implement policies to pave for a low-carbon resilient nation and protect the well-being of our people for today and for generation next."

 The report also emphasized addressing climate change's health implications demands a multi-sectoral approach. Strengthening public health service delivery, particularly focusing on vulnerable groups such as the elderly and children, is imperative. Early warning systems and surveillance mechanisms are crucial for tracking climate-sensitive diseases. Furthermore, supporting the agricultural sector through initiatives like climate-smart agriculture, crop diversification, and social safety nets is essential to ensure adequate nutrition and resilience against climate impacts.