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Getting ahead of the curve in fighting disease

Amy Luers, Program Manager, Environment, Predict and Prevent

The Myanmar cyclone and extreme flooding in Iowa are among the most recent beats in what seems to be a constant pulse of extreme weather-related disasters across the globe. Floods, hurricanes, heatwaves, and droughts nearly always bring with them various threats to public health– including the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. However, these threats now loom even larger with the expected rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme events as a result of the Earth’s changing climate.

In times of disaster our vulnerabilities are revealed. While the recent extreme events cannot be directly attributed to climate change, they are omens of what lie ahead and their devastating impacts raise serious questions about society’s vulnerability to, and its ability to cope with continued climate change.

The good news is that environmental and health scientists are beginning to work together to get us ahead of the curve and prepare for the changes underway by designing new analytical tools, providing access to real-time data, and developing forecasts of emerging infectious diseases. For example, Madeleine Thomson and Stephen Connor at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) have developed a Summer Institute 2008 on Climate Information for Public Health. This institute offers people the opportunity to learn practical methods for integrating climate knowledge and information into public health decision-making.

Yesterday the National Press Club hosted scientists at an event examining the challenges and opportunities to predict and protect global public health from our changing climate. These are the same challenges and opportunities that the Predict and Prevent Initiative seeks to support. Our own Frank Rijsberman participated in the event and outlined’s efforts to support projects that advance the use of climate and weather information to help predict and prevent emerging infectious diseases. You can watch the panel Frank participated in, “Changing Climate, Changing Health Patterns: What will it take to Predict and Protect?” here.

The Associated Press covered the event with an in-depth article. It's encouraging to see this growing interest in health as a part of the climate change discussion, especially given the WHO's dedication of 2008 World Health Day to climate and health.

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