Tuesday, July 23

How climate change is fueling the worst illnesses 2023

The sprayers get out of their truck and carry their metal pesticide tanks through the town. They look like Ghostbusters with their drab overalls, boots, and backpacks.

They spray each chamber with milky chemical to fight insects and malaria.

Similar teams have treated Boane, an hour outside Mozambique’s capital, Moputo. Due to a sickness recurrence, they returned early.

Cyclone Freddy’s catastrophic floods earlier this year altered malaria’s seasonal cycle, the latest evidence of climate change-induced extreme weather events.

Mosquitoes are everywhere due to standing water.

One sprayer, Neli Machoi, says there are numerous mosquitoes and malaria cases. After the campaign, we were summoned back because malaria cases were rising.

The mosquito-borne disease has increased, and Mozambican health experts worry it may erode decades of progress against the old disease.

Not just Mozambican specialists worry about a turnaround. Malaria cases are rising in other nations amid increasingly harsh weather.

Pakistan’s abnormally strong monsoon last year increased malaria rates four-fold, after Mozambique and storm Freddy, the longest-lived tropical storm. Health experts are waiting to see if Cyclone Mocha, which slammed Bangladesh and Myanmar last week, will also spread the illness.

Instead of severe temperatures or flooding, climate change may increase the threat of humanity’s worst deadly illnesses.

“The world hasn’t really grappled with the health impact of climate change,” says Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund to combat AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

“Infectious disease is likely to be one of, if not the single most powerful levers where climate change can translate into people being killed.”

Flaminha Antonio, who lost her Boane home to the hurricane in February, sees the connection.

The mother-of-three’s fields still have huge puddles.

“Now there are many mosquitoes and if you look around, day and night, they are all over,” she said while waiting for the sprayers to complete inside her home. Last September, sprayers protected her house, but the floodwaters swept away the pesticide.

Malaria is climate-sensitive.

Her house was flooded one February night. Residents say opening adjacent dam gates accelerated the floods.
In hours, her home was waist-deep in water that lasted five days.

She had malaria two weeks later. Luckily, her newborn boy recovered. Flaminha’s neighbors also suffered. “Many cases,” she says.

In recent decades, the Global Fund-funded malaria operations in Mozambique have been successful. In the early 21st century, southern cases averaged 600,000. Goodbye Malaria, which sprays the area, reports 50,000 cases.

Mr. Sands argues climate change directly affects malaria because mosquitoes spread it. Climate change is making it harder to fight the epidemic, which killed 619,000 people in 2021, the second-highest number in over a decade.

He claimed malaria is a climate-sensitive illness. “We saw it in Malawi and Pakistan.”

Climate change has expanded mosquito dispersion, according to studies. The bug is spreading the sickness to more countries.

In a worst-case scenario, 8.4 billion people might be at danger from malaria and dengue by the end of the century if carbon emissions continued to rise at present levels, according to a 2021 Lancet Planetary Health research.

Climate change may indirectly impact other dangerous ailments including TB, a bacterial infection spread by coughs and sneezes. TB may spread if droughts and agricultural failures push people into overcrowded camps.

Mr. Sands thinks TB thrives in big groups of extremely stressed people, such as refugees and displaced persons.

“Of course the world has come out of Covid-19 thinking the next threat is a new pathogen, which it might be, but on the other hand the next health crisis may actually be the impact of climate change on existing pathogens,” he said.

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