Es hora de actuar: la mitad del mundo ignora el efecto del cambio climático en las enfermedades infecciosas

Time to Act: Half of the World Is Ignorant About the Effect of Climate Change on Infectious Diseases

03.2.2021
Marek Okon Unsplash
Photo: Marek Okon / Unsplash - Indonesia

[This article was written by Clara Ballesté of ISGlobal and Max van Wijk and Soe Yu Naing, both students in the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in Infectious Diseases and One Health (IDOH+)]

 

Almost half of the world’s population is not aware of the effect of climate change on infectious diseases. While most people are well-informed about climate change, there is a lack of knowledge on infectious diseases in general.

Besides being the warmest year in history, 2020 was the year in which the deadly pandemic emerged. The decrease in carbon emissions during the stay-at-home period highlighted the indirect benefit of a deadly virus. That said, one take-away from 2020 is that climate change and infectious diseases are interdependent and we need to act now to reduce the adverse effects of climate change on human, animal and environmental health.

 

Photo: Indonesia. Rizknas / Unsplash.

 

In January, Spain was hit by a record-breaking snowstorm. Climate change will inevitably exacerbate the spread of infectious diseases and probably lead to more pandemics in the future. An extreme climate event like El Niño can aggravate mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus and zika, which are predicted to become endemic in North America or Europe due to rising global temperatures.

Almost half of the world’s population is not aware of the effect of climate change on infectious diseases. While most people are well-informed about climate change, there is a lack of knowledge on infectious diseases in general

To capture the global perspective on the interplay between climate change and infectious diseases, a multinational study was conducted by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in collaboration with students from the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in Infectious Diseases and One Health (IDOH+). The survey was completed by a total of 458 participants from around the world, mostly from Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Myanmar and the United States.

Even though the general public understands the main impacts of climate change on the environment—such as rising temperatures and melting glaciers—the link between climate change and emerging infectious diseases has not yet been clearly deciphered. It is vitally important to get a better picture of how the world’s population is involved in these global issues. Before this study, only very limited data was available.

 

Photo: Filomena snowstorm in Spain (January 2021). Javier Álamo Rodríguez / Pixabay.

 

A thorough analysis of the collected data revealed that the general population is well aware of climate change, with no differences in knowledge between them and participants with a background in science. However, with regard to the perception of infectious diseases and how they are linked to climate change, the scientific community clearly surpasses the general public. This shows that there are knowledge gaps everywhere in the world that need to be filled. The fact that the general public and the scientific community have similar levels of knowledge on climate change is promising; surely the same can be achieved on the topic of infectious diseases.

The fact that the general public and the scientific community have similar levels of knowledge on climate change is promising; surely the same can be achieved on the topic of infectious diseases

The study also found that half of the European participants (51.7%) were afraid of contracting infectious diseases in general, compared with nearly all Asian participants (87.7%). Conversely, the vast majority of Europeans (72.0%) were afraid of getting an infection when travelling to a tropical region, while this was only true for a small proportion of Asian participants (37.7%). This further highlights the variations in perception, knowledge and attitude depending on nationality.

In-depth comparative analysis was performed on national policy and awareness interventions. In 2006, Spain became the first European Union country to have a national climate adaptation plan and strategy in place. What is also interesting is that a low-income country like Myanmar, being highly vulnerable to climate change, has a policy and strategy plan similar to Spain’s. But Myanmar nationals were not as aware of climate change and infectious diseases. This sort of comparative analysis is very helpful in identifying knowledge and policy gaps for future implementations.

This study marks the first time such a perception assessment was performed at the international level. The collected data will be highly valuable in furthering our understanding of the current status of knowledge on these global topics.