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Nigeria Cholera Outbreak: The Reality of Climate Change Impact

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Climate change has significant implications for human health and well-being, affecting individuals through environmental exposures and influencing the social determinants of health, such as health-related behaviours and socio-economic factors. Moreover, climate change leads to social and economic disruptions, compounding its adverse effects on human health. Environmental exposures may manifest in various ways, direct exposures might occur during flash floods whereas indirect exposures may occur as a result of harmful changes in water, food, and air quality.

This article aims to outline the major climate change-related health impacts in Africa, including the Nigeria Cholera outbreak, provide strategies to prevent or reduce adverse effects of climate change on human health and well-being in Africa and safety measures to keep you safe during the Cholera outbreak.

Several health hazards are posed by climate change. Climate change increases the suitability of environmental conditions for infectious disease transmission and can also directly impact the supply of services and health systems, for example, storm damage to clinic or hospital infrastructure, or road damage preventing healthcare staff from reaching their places of work.

In recent months, Nigeria has faced a severe cholera outbreak, with thousands of cases reported across several states. Cholera, an acute diarrheal disease caused by the ingestion of water or food contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, can lead to severe dehydration and death if untreated. The current outbreak has been linked to climate change which has contaminated water sources and overwhelmed sanitation infrastructure.

Recently, The Director-General of NCDC, Dr Jide Idris, who recently spoke in an update on the cholera epidemiological situation in Nigeria, expressed fears that the situation might be compounded as the rainy season intensifies.

The situation in Nigeria highlights the direct connection between climate change and public health. Increased rainfall and flooding, driven by changing climate patterns, create ideal conditions for cholera transmission. Contaminated water and inadequate sanitation facilities are critical factors in the spread of the disease. As climate change continues to alter weather patterns, such outbreaks may become more frequent and severe, posing significant challenges to healthcare systems.

Access to adequate, clean water and the means to practice healthy hygiene, such as those promoted via Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is important to curb the spread of infectious diseases, especially in light of possible disruptions to water availability and sanitation from infrastructure failure/breakdown due to extreme weather events. 

Opportunities for Impact at the Intersection of Climate and Health

Addressing the health impacts of climate change requires a multi-faceted approach that integrates public health, environmental science, and policy. Here are some key opportunities for making a positive impact:

Health systems: 

โ€ข Reducing the climate impact of the health sector by addressing waste, switching to renewable sources of energy, switching to low emissions of anaesthetic gasses, and reducing supply chain emissions 

โ€ข Investing in universal health coverage, based on strong primary health care, to support everyday health and underlying resilience of all people and communities 

โ€ข Ensuring all healthcare infrastructure can withstand extreme weather threats 

โ€ข Equipping the health workforce to recognize, respond to and discuss climate-related health  impacts with patients and decision-makers

Healthy & connected communities: 

โ€ข Building safe and accessible routes for walking, wheeling, and riding, as well as expansive, well-connected,  affordable public transportation systems that run on renewable energy 

โ€ข Creating green space in cities to reduce heat impacts and improve mental health 

โ€ข Improving disaster response plans, and investing in social safety net programs to support impacted communities 

โ€ข Providing schools the resources to counsel young people grappling with the mental health impacts of climate change 

As we navigate the complex challenges posed by climate change and its impact on health care, collaboration and innovation are key. The cholera outbreak in Nigeria serves as a subtle reminder of the urgent need for action at the intersection of climate and health. Through continued investment in sustainable solutions and interdisciplinary partnerships, we can create a healthier, more resilient future for generations to come.

How to stay safe during the outbreak

  1. Ensure Safe Drinking Water: Drink only bottled, boiled, or chemically treated water. Avoid using ice unless it is made from safe water.
  2. Practice Good Hygiene: Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water before eating, after using the toilet, and when handling food.
  3. Safe Food Practices: Eat food that is thoroughly cooked and still hot. Avoid raw or undercooked seafood and street food. Peel fruits and vegetables before eating.
  4. Proper Sanitation: Ensure that waste is properly disposed of and avoid areas with poor sanitation.
  5. Avoid raw or improperly cooked fish and seafood of any kind.
  6. Stick to fruits and vegetables that you can peel yourself, such as bananas, oranges, and avocados. Stay away from salads and fruits that canโ€™t be peeled, such as grapes and berries.
  7. Vaccination: Get vaccinated against cholera if you are travelling to an area where cholera is common or if there is an outbreak in your area.
  8. Recognize Symptoms: Symptoms of cholera include severe diarrhoea, vomiting, and dehydration. Know the signs and seek medical attention immediately if they appear.
  9. Spread Awareness: Share information about cholera prevention with family, friends, and community members to collectively reduce the risk of infection.

The African Digital Epidemiology Innovation Network(ADEIN), an expression of the Design for Health practice, has put out a Call for Applications tagged โ€œEmerging Tech and Digital Interoperability: Innovating for Resilience and Improved Health Careโ€. We are accepting applications under the following categories: Health care Delivery, Disease Preparedness and Climate Health. This Innovation Challenge is open to 4 African countries: Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Tunisia. Learn more about the program https://lnkd.in/dC3ZNZqN and apply here https://lnkd.in/dX23HEJ5

If you would like to learn more, here is a link to an interesting resource: https://storage.googleapis.com/jnl-up-j-agh-files/journals/1/articles/4260/65b782b2dbb2c.pdfndation in epidemiology, health policy, and community health interventions.