Adeola Akinremi writes that climate change is already impacting on the health of Nigerians, but many are unaware and hardly trace their health challenges to climate change
Nowadays when people wake up they either notice certain change in their voices, faces or they experience less energy. A cold virus and a nasty stomach virus are also going around just as more people experience inaudibility in their voices. Some have taken it to be normal or just a kind of flu, but experts say the health impact of climate change is it. Significantly the months of January to March are known for flu as harmattan haze creates effect on the earth surface.
Dr. Lanre Onigbogi, a Lecturer at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) said harmattan comes from Sahara desert and because of desertification of the desert, it surely has its bearing on climate change and the health impact on the people. “As soil becomes hot, malaria organism rise up and find human body convenient and because of poor resistant by the human body, different kind of sickness will set in,” he said.
Accordingly, Nigeria is one of the countries expected to be most affected by the impacts of climate change through sea level rise along the country’s 800 km long coast line, intensified desertification, erosion and flooding disasters and general land degradation that has now become a common sight.
What is the impact of climate change on health?
Experts say global warming may bring some localized benefits in certain areas, the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative. Climate change affects social determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.
Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. High temperatures also raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that aggravate cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Urban air pollution in Nigeria may afterwards be costing a lot of people their health.
Natural disasters and variable rainfall patterns
The number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled in the last few months across the country. Every year, these disasters result in loss of lives and valuables.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, medical facilities and other essential services. More than half of the world's population lives within 60 km of the sea. People may be forced to move, which in turn heightens the risk of a range of health effects, from mental disorders to communicable diseases. Last year a large number of people were displaced by flood across Nigerian communities.
WHO says, “Variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which kills 2.2 million people every year. In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine. By the 2090s, climate change is likely to widen the area affected by drought, double the frequency of extreme droughts and increase their average duration six-fold.”
To be sure, preliminary findings from a study commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the African Adaptation Programme (AAP) in Nigeria have linked water stress in the country to climate change.
"Climate change will affect urban and rural water in Nigeria through unpredictable rainfall leading to inadequate recharge of aquifers and surface water.
"Rainfall variability in Nigeria is likely to have a drastic effect on river discharges. A deficit of 20 to 30 per cent in rainfall results in a water shortage or deficit of 40 to 60 per cent. Climate variability resulting in floods can have catastrophic consequences for basic water infrastructure. Such damage can take years to repair. On a smaller scale, drinking-water infrastructure can be hooded and put out of commission for days, weeks or months," the study stated.
Patterns of infection
Climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold blooded animals.
Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range. For example, malaria is strongly influenced by climate. Transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes, malaria kills almost
In 2010, Malaria Indicator Survey conducted in Nigeria, revealed that about 52 per cent of children aged between 6 months and 5 years tested positive to malaria through Rapid Diagnostic Test.
According to the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, the prevalence was higher in rural areas, estimated at about 55.9 per cent.
He said: “Malaria is a major public problem in Nigeria, contributing a quarter of malaria burden in Africa. Over 90 per cent of the population in Nigeria, put at 167 million, is at risk. Malaria contributes 30 per cent to childhood mortality in Nigeria and contributes 11 percent of maternal mortality. I must add that it reduces Nigeria’s GDP by 1 per cent annually. It is estimated that malaria-related illnesses and mortality cost Africa’s economy about $12 billion annually.”
Studies suggest that climate change could expose more people to malaria across the country.
Who is at risk?
According to WHO, all populations will be affected by climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others. People living in small island developing states and other coastal regions, megacities, and mountainous and polar regions are particularly vulnerable.
Children – in particular, children living in poor countries – are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks and will be exposed longer to the health consequences. The health effects are also expected to be more severe for elderly people and people with infirmities or pre-existing medical conditions.
Areas with weak health infrastructure –such as Nigeria – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.