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Tracking infectious diseases in a warming world


In order to help stimulating and informing public health response, the use of infectious disease sensitive to climate indicators can be a useful approach.

The use of climate change "indicators", aiming at tracking historical and potential future trends in key impacted areas related to climate change is increasing. In the area of health, such indicators range from quantifying and characterizing exposure, vulnerability and risks for the population as well as the health system. On the one hand, the key impacts on the population's health shall be identified and tracked and on the other hand, changes in resilience and adaptive capacity evaluated.

The so called "climate-sensitive infectious disease" (CSID) can be used as a climate change indicator. The current CSID indicators focus mostly on the climatic suitability or population vulnerability components of disease transmission risk, as opposed to case or burden data.

Each CSID indicator aims to capture environmental suitability of disease transmission by mathematically linking preferred conditions for transmission with climate input data. This allows for a long-term assessment of how environmental suitability for disease transmission has changed in recent decades, providing an initial step towards the attribution of disease risk to anthropogenic climate change.

Given the scale and pace of the challenge that climate change presents, CSID indicator and their outputs must be paired with dedicated efforts to ensure they are translated into languages and formats that a wide range of audiences can understand, ideally co-designed with policy makers and potential users.

Initiatives to track the impacts of climate change (including increased variability in extreme events) and the effects of adaptation efforts on CSIDs have recently emerged to meet this challenge.

Greater investment is required to help such initiatives realize their full potential to accurately identify the contribution of climatic drivers of infectious disease risk across space and time. Thus, the following recommendations to further progress on applicable CSIDs are of relevance:

  • Development, standardization, and implementation of climate change and health indicators requires multidisciplinary research collaborations and major investment
  • A systematic assessment of climate sensitive infectious diseases is required to prioritize diseases for tracking
  • Standardized methodologies across diseases are needed with outcomes linked to trends in other sectors
  • Indicator outputs should be accessible and translated into languages and formats for diverse audiences, co-designed with policy makers and users
  • Scientific reports should be paired with policy briefings, engaging narrative, and creative outputs to maximize media coverage and policy engagement

Reference information

BMJ medical journal

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jan 12 2021   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Jan 12 2021

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