Europeans May Have to Sleep Under Mosquito Nets as Climate Change Alters Disease Patterns Geneva Health Forum 2022 03/05/2022 • Maayan Hoffman Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Geneva Health Forum session, “Impact of climate change on health.” From left: Moderator Maximilian Jungmann, University of Heidelberg; Alfonso Gomez, City of Geneva; Maria Neira, World Health Organization; Gueladio Cisse, CGIEC Swiss TPH; and Valérie D’Acremont, University of Lausanne. Children sick with malaria, adults in bed with fevers and rashes as a result of the Zika virus, tick-borne illnesses – all of these diseases are on the rise as a result of climate change, according to Valérie D’Acremont of the University of Lausanne. She spoke on Tuesday at the Geneva Health Forum during a special session on the impact of climate change on health, addressing the question: “what is the scale of the problem and what action needs to be taken?” “It is clear that there has been an increase in transmission of [existing] pathogens and of new pathogens,” said D’Acremont, a Swiss physician who is also working on a project in Africa. For example, the spread of malaria, caused by a parasite that spreads to humans and other animals through the bites of infected female mosquitoes, increases in temperatures of around 25ºC. “In West Africa, it is too hot, so malaria might be going down, but in East Africa, the opposite is the case and we see an increase in malaria,” she said. Adding to the challenge are compromised health systems, the result of two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen the world losing some of its gains against malaria over the last 20 years. Mosquitoes, similarly, are more prone to spreading Zika virus in around 30ºC, which means that the world’s tropical areas are seeing more and more of the disease, and it is likely to extend to Europe and other countries. “We see it already in Italy,” D’Acremont stressed. “We might one day have to sleep under bed nets like they do in Africa.” Tick-borne diseases are spreading in Switzerland, also as a result of climate change, she added. There has been a two-thirds increase in the number of people hospitalized for ticks in Switzerland from 2009 to 2019, according to a recent report by RTS. Moreover, the number of tick bites rose from around 10,000 per year between 2012 and 2016 to around 14,000 a year in the last four years. “Journalists like to hear this story because it frightens people,” D’Acremont said but added that the main challenge was that people die from these diseases when coupled with other pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension or malnutrition. These are also often a result of climate change or failing to take care of the environment and our food sources. “Climate change has a huge impact on this too, especially undernutrition and respiratory problems,” she said. Alfonso Gomez of the City of Geneva addresses the Geneva Health Forum on May 3, 2022. We need to stop exploiting animals, destroying nature Climate change has become an inescapable reality. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report showed what people already knew: There is now scientific consensus that climate change is impacting people’s health and wellbeing in all hemispheres. Sometimes the effect is direct, Gueladio Cisse of CGIEC Swiss TPH, who also spoke at the session, said. Sometimes it is indirect. Sometimes the effect comes at once, and other times it has a slower but also longer-term impact. “If there is a heatwave, the next thing you know people are dying over the course of two or three days,” Cisse said as an example. Other times, a general increase in temperature allows pathogens to grow and makes humans more vulnerable to disease. The good news, said Dr Maria Neira, of the World Health Organization, is that the scientific community has been “pulling together in a historic way all the evidence we have on climate change… They are telling us things like if we don’t take measure now, this might put civilization at risk.” D’Acremont agreed but said that while research was useful, now is the time to do research in the field by monitoring the impact of steps taken to curb environmental hazards. “We need a paradigm shift to go to prevention,” she said. “Take COVID. It is nice to have a preparedness plan, but the problem is that another pandemic or event could come and it is new and we cannot be prepared.” Instead, she said, “we need to stop destroying nature, stop exploiting animals and start preparing ourselves by being in better health. During the crisis is too late… We have to shift the reality now to preventive care. That is true for northern and southern countries.” This is part of a Health Policy Watch series of stories on feature themes at the 2022 Geneva Health Forum. Supported by a grant from the Canton of Geneva. Image Credits: Maayan Hoffman. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.