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Climate Change Driving Diarrhoea, Severe Pneumonia Cases Up

The trend is also leading to an increase in diarrhoea and severe pneumonia cases among children worsening pregnancy outcomes, food insecurity, mental health problems, and leading to developmental delays. The conditions are responsible for over one million deaths among children annually.
Rising temperatures and reduced air quality that are associated with climate change are increasing asthma attacks and allergies, among children, according to health experts.

The trend is also leading to an increase in diarrhoea and severe pneumonia cases among children worsening pregnancy outcomes, food insecurity, mental health problems, and leading to developmental delays. The conditions are responsible for over one million deaths among children annually.

Dr Regina Bures, a senior programme director at the U.S National Institute of Health says that climate extremes can lead to an additional 50,000 diarrhoea deaths by 2030. She was speaking during a virtual meeting organised by the Child Health Task Force in commemoration of Air Quality week.

According to Dr Bures, high temperatures at times lead to unexpected floods which lead to diarrhoeal diseases, the second leading cause of death globally. Estimates from the WHO show that annually over 1.7 billion cases of diarrhoeal diseases are reported with around 525,000 of the patients dying.

Another cause of diseases among children was air pollution, which according to experts, has led to an increase in severe pneumonia. A 10-year observational study carried out in China showed that polluted air contributed to more cases of severe pneumonia compared to respiratory viruses.

The study showed that 62.53 per cent of the pneumonia cases were linked to polluting air compared to 7.36 per cent due to respiratory viruses. One of the diseases linked to poor quality air is asthma.

Dr Bruce Kirenga, the director of the Makerere University Lung Institute says the number of persons dying due to asthma has increased in Uganda, mainly due to increased exposure to air pollutants from multiple sources such as the ineffective use of biomass fuels.

According to a population survey conducted in 2018 among 2,936 people in Uganda, the overall prevalence of asthma was 11.02 per cent with a higher prevalence of 12.99 per cent reported among residents from urban centres. Estimates from the World Health Organisation show that over 600,000 children die annually due to exposure to polluted air. This number is expected to increase by 2030.

In addition to the above, experts argue that climate change in Sub- Saharan Africa could lead to an increase of arboviruses such as dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya and Zika viruses that flourish in places with high temperatures.

Dr Bures says due to the high temperatures associated with climate change, some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa will likely start reporting an increase in such diseases.

"The human and environmental drivers including temperature affect the dynamics of vector-borne diseases. While malaria is a long-standing public health problem in sub-Saharan Africa, arboviruses such as dengue cause an unrecognised burden of disease. The findings of this study show the public health burden of Arbor disease could overtake that of malaria as climate warming increases the suitability of such viruses which would have an effect on the health of children," he said.

To better protect children, the experts called upon governments to put in place regulations like; planting more trees, wearing facial masks, and stopping the importation of old vehicles that emit exhaust fumes to protect children.

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