Based on an August 2014 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), “Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.” The report also surmised that (in relation to climate change), “Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond… Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.”
Considering that we live in a developing country within a region of developing countries, it is not difficult to see that the likelihood of the WHO’s report is already being proven. If we focus on malaria, we see a disease which is spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become a plague during rainy seasons when poor drainage systems and areas for fresh water to settle serve as breeding grounds for the insects. When the insect carries a virus, the outcome is not limited solely to malaria outbreaks. Just add to that the 2014 Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) and the 2015 Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreaks. Both viruses, although mosquito transmitted, were able to spread rapidly across large land masses and territories.
In Jamaica, CHIKV struck our island’s residents hard leading to:
- Thousands of people contracting the virus,
- Persons with pre-existing medical conditions reporting that their conditions were actually worsened after they contracted CHIKV and
- Weeks of labour hours lost due to persons being unable to work for as many as two weeks.
CHIKV emerged after an extended dry spell, with some of the most widespread forest fires many Jamaicans have ever witnessed locally, was immediately followed by an extended period of rainfall. The rainy season provided ideal conditions for the CHIKV infected mosquitoes to breed, thrive and infect almost the entire population. Climate change is expected to create more incidents like this because the same warming temperatures that intensify dry spells during our dry, moisture-deficient season, is the same warming weather that increases the amount of natural evaporation (during the moisture-rich rainy season) needed to fuel increased condensation. The result:
Increased rainfall and flood vulnerability which create ideal conditions for mosquito breeding, water contamination and other conditions that can potentially compromise your health and put children and senior citizens at high risk.