Research on the health impacts of global climate change should be conducted within an international network of scientists. Climatic-environmental changes will vary by geographic location, and local populations vary in their vulnerability to such changes. Therefore, the patterns of health gains and losses will be very context-dependent. This type of research requires maximum exchange of information and cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques among scientists, agencies, and institutes. In particular, forecasting the likely health outcomes of exposure to future climate-environmental scenarios requires development of predictive models that can integrate across disparate systems. This will require an interdisciplinary approach. There is an urgent need to focus research efforts more sharply. Particular tasks include:
Monitoring of the potential impacts of climate change on health is important for several reasons (Campbell-Lendrum et al., 2000; Kovats and Martens, 2000):
Epidemiological data are necessary to inform policymakers about the magnitude
of actual or potential impacts of climate change. Most current infection surveillance
systems have been designed to detect particular causes, such as food-borne disease,
and individual risk factors, such as overseas travel. Monitoring of climate
change requires a more comprehensive approach to infection etiology, examining
the possible influence of climate on the environmental sources of pathogens
and on human behavior (WHO-ECEH, 1998a,b). Another challenge for climate study
is the size of data sets required. Although trends in any one country will be
a starting point, improved coordination of infection data across regions will
be needed. Epidemiological data also would help to determine the requirements
for and the effectiveness of preventive actions.
Bioindicators of health risk also need to be developed, to detect early or
unanticipated health impacts of climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion.
For example, mapping and monitoring of vector species could be strengthened
to detect early changes in their distribution associated with climate change
(Campbell-Lendrum et al., 2000). The effect of extreme weather events such as
heat waves and floods need to be included in enhanced surveillance for assessment
of future impacts.
Populations vary in their vulnerability to health impacts and in the resources available for adaptive responses (McMichael et al., 2000b). These differences in vulnerability, between and within populations, reflect a wide range of demographic, cultural, political, socioeconomic, and technological circumstances. In the future, national impact assessments should describe and identify means by which the vulnerability of populations and subgroups could be reduced and select priorities for monitoring.
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