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Global warming threatens global health

Dr. Amy Luers, Team Member,

Last week an Associated Press story highlighted the fact that climate change is contributing to the rise of infectious diseases. According to the article, several hundred cases of chikungunya fever -- a virus that in past has only been common in Africa and Asia -- have been reported recently in Italy. Rising temperatures are creating new breeding grounds for diseases to emerge, and the expanded movement of people and goods are increasing disease spread worldwide.

This European outbreak is one of a series of recent warning signs of the mounting risks that our changing climate poses to human health. While everyone in the world face risks from emerging infectious diseases and other threats associated with global warming, the poorest people are most vulnerable.

The good news is that momentum is growing worldwide to address climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The bad news is that even with aggressive global action to reduce emissions, the climate will continue to change for decades as a result of previous emissions. Scientific research suggests that if actions could be taken to immediately stop the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, the inertia of the climate system is such that 0.5°C (0.9°F) or more of additional global average warming would still occur.

One thing is certain: the future will hold more changes and more surprises, and we need to be prepared. Those of us on the team are working at the intersection of climate change, global public health, and poverty to help reduce the vulnerability of the world's poor to the emerging diseases of the future.

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