Climate change to negate child healthcare gain: Study

Representative image. (Photo/Pixabay)

India's modest gain in improving its children's health in the last 70 years is set to be negated by the climate change if the world leaders allow business as usual to continue instead of cutting down the green house gas emission.

As temperatures rise, infants will be the most vulnerable to the burden of malnutrition and rising food prices. The average yield potential of maize and rice has declined by 2% in India since the 1960s as malnutrition accounts for two-thirds of under-five deaths. The scenario for wheat and soybean are not particularly bright either.

Besides lowering the crop yield, one of the dangerous long-term consequences of climate change is a drop in the micro-nutrient content of such crops, which would impact the children maximum in their growing years, according to two new studies published on Thursday on the link between climate change and health, particularly children's health.

If the world follows a business-as-usual pathway, with high carbon emissions and climate change continuing at the current rate, a child born today will face a world on average more than four degrees Celsius warmer by their 71st birthday, threatening their health at every stage of their lives.

Children will be among the most to suffer from the rise in infectious diseases as seen from the adaptive behaviour of Vibrio bacteria that cause cholera, whose numbers are rising in India by 3% every year since 1980s.

Originally restricted to the plains, dengue is now increasingly common in the hilly regions. The Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura have seen 15-20 fold increases in numbers of cases since 2013 besides Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The same is true for malaria whose burden will shift from the central Indian region to the south western coastal states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, as well as the hill states.

Throughout adolescence, the impact of air pollution will worsen as India increases its coal-based energy supply by 11% between 2016 and 2018. The dangerous levels of outdoor fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) contribute to over 5,29,500 premature deaths in 2016.

Extreme weather events will intensify into adulthood, with India seeing an additional 21 million people exposed to wildfires since 2001-2004; and 22 billion additional hours of work lost due to extreme heat since 2000 (12 billion in agriculture).

“Few countries are likely to suffer from the health effects of climate change as much as India. Diarrhoeal infections, a major cause of child mortality, will spread into new areas, while deadly heatwaves, similar to one in 2015 that killed thousands of people in India, could soon become the norm”, says Poornima Prabhakaran from the Public Health Foundation of India, who co-authored an India Policy Brief, linked to the two studies.

The studies – published in the Lancet and Medical Journal of Australia - are part of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change exercise in which 120 experts from 35 institutions including the World Health Organisation analyse the world's progress across 41 key indicators every year since 2015, demonstrating what could be consequences for human health if the business-as-usual situation continues on climate change instead of meeting the Paris Agreement targets.

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