Climate Change and Infectious Diseases

Photo Credit – Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

The interconnectedness between climate change and the escalation of infectious diseases remains one of the serious issues baffling scientists, especially those in the medical sciences. This is the main reason the World Health Organisation, other international agencies and forward-thinking nations of the world are concerned about the quality and urgency of human response to emerging climate and environmental realities that pose threats to the socio-economic and health outcomes of populations across the world.

Many infectious diseases thrive in areas were nature unleashes its fury on the environment. The last flood disaster that ravaged Nigerian communities is a typical example. According to UNICEF, that development led to the death of 600 persons and the displacement of 1.3 million others. Diseases like cholera, viral diseases (especially water-borne infections, such as diarrheal diseases), hepatitis A and E, air-borne infections and vector-borne diseases (such as yellow fever, west Nile fever (WNF) and dengue fever) usually rear their ugly heads in flooded environments. These diseases usually take a huge financial toll on communities where they are prevalent and sometimes lead to the overstretching of medical facilities.

While they destroy livelihoods like crop farming, mining, fishing and other forms of animal husbandry, thereby leading to food shortage and food insecurity in the long run, it is also important to note that flood disasters could also affect primary healthcare facilities, thereby making the dispensation of medical care difficult or impossible. Moreover, when people with different medical histories and cultural as well as religious backgrounds are forced by unforeseen circumstances to live together in IDP camps, there would definitely be more risks of disease transmission.

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There are also risks of sexual exploitation and violence, as has been witnessed in many IDP camps in Nigeria, where the availability of basic necessities like food are usually rationed or limited. This leads to the sexual exploitation of the vulnerable, especially children and young adults who may not necessarily understand the implications of their actions in the face of hunger, poverty and hopelessness. They could end up contracting various types of sexually-transmitted infections which could damage their reproductive systems and affect their fertility in future.

The problem of global warming is another issue that most nations of the world are worried about, bearing in mind its tendency to cause not only the displacement of humans but that of animals from one habitat to another. It is important to note here that when animals are displaced from their natural habitats, they form new ones by encroaching on territories where they struggle to adapt. In the course of their adaptation to the new environment, they can transmit diseases to either human or animal populations. Also, as the earth becomes troubled by rising temperatures, diseases like Ebola, Lassa, Rift Valley fever, and Monkeypox will increase, along with the risk of international transmission.

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Consequently, all over the world, proactive governments find innovative ways to tackle the problem of climate change. One of such ways is the establishment of ecological funds by the Nigerian government to ensure that all the necessary palliatives are put in place to check the excesses of nature. This special fund was established in 1981 through the Federation Account Act 1981, on the recommendation of the Okigbo Commission. Decree 36 of 1984 and 106 of 1992 as well as the allocation of Federation Account modification order of 2002 subsequently modified the act. The Fund which originally constituted 1 per cent of the Federation Account was reviewed to 2 per cent in 1992, and later 1 per cent of the derivation allocation was added, thus bringing the total percentage to 3 per cent.

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Unfortunately, while the cardinal objective of this Fund, as conceived by government, was to have a pool of fund that would be principally devoted to the funding of ecological projects towards containing the rise of serious ecological problems nationwide, many state governments in Nigeria have mismanaged it. In fact, a former governor was sent to jail on account of his mismanagement of ecological funds to the tune of N1.2b, while others are engulfed with litigations at various stages.

Governments in sub-Saharan Africa must begin to think differently. Rather than convert funds meant for the development of infrastructure in their communities to personal use, they should emulate their counterparts in developed countries of the world where there are very stringent punishments for those who abuse the power bestowed on them by their office through different categories of sleaze. It can be argued that the 2022 flood disaster in Nigeria and its attendant socio-economic and health outcomes could have been averted, if the ecological funds had been put into proper use.


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