Climate Change May Worsen Diarrheal Disease in Botswana

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“Our results identify significant climate-health interactions and highlight the need for an escalated public health focus on controlling diarrheal disease in Botswana," she continued. “Understanding the potential health impacts of climate change in low-income countries will be essential to developing mitigation and adaptive strategies designed to protect these vulnerable populations expected to be impacted the hardest but least able to adapt."

“While our work identifies important climate-health interactions and increased vulnerability of Botswana to forecasted changes in regional climate," Alexander cautioned, “it is important to remember that this does not account for affects of nonclimatic factors such as future improvements in sanitation infrastructure and hygiene. The impact of forecasted climate change on this disease syndrome is likely to be significantly reduced if present day public health deficiencies are fully identified and addressed."

“It is essential, however, that we include affected communities in identifying climate change preparedness," Alexander emphasized. “Lack of sociocultural considerations in public health planning can result in locally applied interventions being nonsustainable."

Understanding climate variability as a determinant of infectious disease is increasingly seen as a cornerstone of climate change preparedness and an urgent area of need in Africa and elsewhere around the world.

“Much of the threat of climate change on health results from our vulnerabilities to environmental change. These vulnerabilities are primarily associated with the poor, who are most dependent on the environment and least able to adapt to changes in these systems," she explained. “If we address current community health deficiencies now, climate change impacts are not likely to have such important and potentially devastating consequences in the future."

Because of the magnitude of Alexander’s work in Botswana, she is one of three scholars selected as an African regional expert by the World Health Organization and the Convention on Biological Diversity secretariat to participate in a regional workshop in Mozambique April 2-5. As a specialist in disease ecology with associated ecological and human dimensions, she will make a presentation to leaders from various African countries on integrating health and biodiversity in policy and planning efforts.

“Kathy is a brilliant scholar who successfully connects her many skills to people in Botswana," said Paul Winistorfer, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. “She recognizes that her most important goal is to improve the lives and livelihood of these people, while respecting the human-wildlife interaction that is coupled to environmental sustainability."

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