Climate Change and its Associated Health Risks in Nigeria
Over the years, humans have relied on the environment for existence and sustenance in a way that man’s survival is determined by his interaction with the environment brought about by the activities of man. One of the global events that arise from the man-environment transaction is climate change. Climate change has become the subject of debates and discourse among scholars and experts, making it one of the most topical issues on the world’s agenda today. scientific evidence has revealed that climate change is an all-encompassing threat and is considered the most serious ecological threat to the survival and sustainable development of humanity. According to the WHO (2021), Climate change is already impacting health in numerous dimensions, including by leading to death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms and floods, the disruption of food systems, increases in zoonoses and food-water- and vector-borne diseases. Furthermore, climate change is undermining many of the social determinants for good health, such as livelihoods, equality and access to health care and social support structures. These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced persons, older populations, and those with underlying health conditions.
Climate change can affect human health, especially when infectious diseases are concerned. Three components are essential for most infectious diseases: an agent (or pathogen), a host (or vector) and a transmission environment (Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, 2022). Some pathogens are carried by vectors or require intermediate hosts to complete their lifecycle. Appropriate climate and weather conditions are necessary for the survival, reproduction, distribution and transmission of disease pathogens, vectors, and hosts. Therefore, changes in climate or weather conditions may impact infectious diseases by affecting the pathogens, vectors, hosts and their living environment. Overall, climate conditions constrain the geographic and seasonal distributions of infectious diseases, and weather affects the timing and intensity of disease outbreaks (CDC, 2022).
The World Bank Group (2017) posited that climate-related health impacts are likely to increase with the intensification of floods; high temperatures, food and water shortages leading to malnutrition, especially in children, and vector and water-borne diseases will expand in range as conditions favour mosquitoes, flies and other pathogens. Evidence suggests that Africa and more particularly Sub-Saharan Africa is mostly at risk of climate-health impact despite being the lowest contributors to human factors causing climate change (WBG, 2017; United Nations, 2020; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022; WHO, 2022). In support of this assertion, UNICEF (2023) provided evidence that nearly 25 million Nigerians are at high risk of food insecurity in 2023 as a result of the recent floodings and more extreme weather patterns affecting the country. The Federal Ministry of Environment (2020) in its National Policy on climate change also holds that in Nigeria, the agriculture and food security, water resources, public health, and settlements sectors are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Hence the pressing need to bring awareness to the impact of climate change and its associated health risks in Nigeria.
Infectious Diseases and Climate Change in Nigeria
Cerebral-spinal meningitis is one of the infectious diseases likely to be caused by climate change as a result of excessive heat. According to the International Center for Investigative Reporting (2023), the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) attributed the recent meningitis outbreak to the hot weather currently being experienced in the country. Similarly, several disease outbreaks have been reported due to ongoing flooding, which has continued ravaging parts of Nigeria. As of September 14, 2022, many Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States regions have reported cholera outbreaks, with 586,110 and 320 cases, respectively, and nearly 300 have died. Over 14,000 people were displaced from these three states. At the same time, other states like Kogi, Anambra and Katsina States are at high risk of contagious disease outbreaks (Abdulrahim et al., 2022).
Vector-borne diseases, infection and climate change
The world’s most virulent infections are also highly sensitive to climate temperature, precipitation and humidity which have an influence on the life cycles of the vectors and the infectious agents (WHO, 2015). The WHO (2021) world malaria report shows that Nigeria had the highest number of global malaria cases (27 % of global malaria cases) and the highest number of deaths (32 % of global malaria deaths) in 2020. Case numbers increased by 5.3% between 2017 and 2020, from 298 to 314 per 1000 of the population at risk. Deaths increased by 4.7% during that same period. The WHO (2015) projected that by 2070, under both high and low emissions, over 400 million people are predicted to be at risk of malaria.
Diarrheal diseases, malnutrition and climate change
Out of 163 countries, Nigeria ranked second in terms of the risk that climate change poses to children (UNICEF, 2021). It was reported that under a high emissions event, diarrheal deaths which are linked to climate change in children under 15 years of age are projected to be 9.8% of the over 76,000 diarrheal deaths predicted in 2030, leading to malnutrition especially in children (WHO, 2015) .
Other Climate-health Impacts
WHO data show that almost all of the global population (99%) breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits and contains high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures (WHO, 2023). In Nigeria, Other high causes of death associated with environmental risk factors include chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases, which has led to approximately over 800 thousand deaths and 26 million people living with Disability-Adjusted-Life-Years (DALYs) (Pona et al., 2021).
The mitigation and adaptive measures against the effects of climate change are very critical for Nigeria to reduce the health risks brought about by this global threat. This has been reiterated by the Federal Ministry of Health in its National Policy on Climate Change, through its strategic objectives (FME, 2020). In addition to this, the health sector from primary, secondary and tertiary health institutions should identify the major regional health hazards caused by climate change and ensure that the development of risk-lessening adaptations is employed.
There is a need to protect the environment; hence, there should be awareness of the potential health risks associated with climate change. Relevant agencies should create awareness among citizens including disaster and emerging workers about climate change impacts and how they affect vulnerable populations. This could be achieved by providing basic training, workshops and sensitization programs to raise awareness and promote climate change adaptation.
In the long term, it is essential to adopt contemporary technology that employs geospatial infrastructure to locate and map out locations vulnerable to climate-weather variability such as flooding). It should guide the right course of action for rescue, recovery, and disaster preparation. Early warning systems, disaster preparedness plans, and better local, national, and worldwide flood surveillance should be developed, as this will help to prevent future occurrences and mitigate the impact on health sectors. Governments, relevant stakeholders and development sectors must work together to enforce compliance with early disaster warnings.
Abdulrahim, A.., Galumbe, B.H., and Liman, U.U. (2022). A Catastrophic Flood in Nigeria, its Impacts on Health Facilities and Exacerbations of infectious Diseases. PAMJ One Health, 9(21). https://doi.org/10.11604/pamj-oh.2022.9.21.38023
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Climate change and Infectious Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/ncezid/what-we-do/climate-change-and-infectious-diseases/index.html
Federal Ministry of Environment (2020). National Policy on Climate change. https://climatechange.gov.ng/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/national-climate-change-policy-1-1.pdf
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2022). Key Facts-Africa. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/downloads/outreach/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Africa.pdf
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Pona, H.T., Xiaoli, D., Ayantobo, O.O., and Tetteh, N.D. (2021). Environmental Health Situation in Nigeria: Country Status and Future Needs. Heliyon, 7(3): e06330. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e06330
United Nations (2020). Climate Change Is an Increasing Threat to Africa. https://unfccc.int/news/climate-change-is-an-increasing-threat-to-africa
World Bank Group (2017). Climate Change and Health in Sub-Saharan Africa. https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/824651516135124228-0020022018/render/FINALSSAHotspotNote9Jan2018.pdf
World Health organization (2015). Climate and Health Country profile 2015- Nigeria. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/208865/WHO_FWC_PHE_EPE_15.11_eng.pdf
World Health Organization (2021). Climate Change and Health. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health
World Health Organization (2021). World Malaria Report. https://www.who.int/teams/global-malaria-programme/reports/world-malaria-report-2021
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