Extreme weather events linked to climate change, including floods and droughts, are fuelling the spread of vector-borne diseases in the East and Horn of African region, experts said on Wednesday.
The experts told a virtual briefing in Nairobi that rising temperatures in the region have created a conducive environment for disease-causing pathogens to thrive.
“Some of the negative impacts of climate change like floods, storms and extreme heat are fuelling the spread of pathogens that are resistant to drugs,” said Adugna Woyessa Gemeda, a researcher at Ethiopian Public Health Institute.
Gemeda said that climate change has increased the burden of communicable diseases like cholera and malaria in the region, besides undermining the resilience of public health systems.
The Nairobi-based Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) through its Climate Predictions and Applications Centre (ICPAC) organized the webinar on the impact of climate change on East Africa’s public health infrastructure.
Gemeda said that climate-sensitive diseases like cholera, dengue fever, malaria and chikungunya are on the increase in the region amid strain on national budgets and the fragile health systems.
“Human-induced warming in East Africa is behind an increase in the burden of vector-borne diseases and malnutrition and the warming trend points at the frequency of outbreaks in the future,” he said.
“There is a need to strengthen surveillance and modeling, identify hotspots to help inform targeted interventions and improve the resilience of public health systems in the region,” he added.
Andrew Githeko, principal research scientist at Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), said there is a scientific consensus indicating that rising atmospheric temperature was fuelling infectious diseases in the region.
“There is a body of research showing that an increase in mean temperature is directly linked to a higher rate of pathogens’ transmission in the region,” said Githeko.
He said that climate-induced rise in ocean and lake water levels in the region is to blame for higher frequency and duration of communicable diseases like Rift Valley Fever, Malaria, Cholera and Yellow Fever.
According to Githeko, climate change is behind the mutation of mosquitoes and other diseases causing vectors thus triggering resistance to antibiotics.
Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, coordinator of the Climate Change and Health Program at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that low carbon development is key to boost the resilience of public health systems in the region amid a spike in diseases linked to extreme weather events.