Changing weather patterns not only affect food production and ecosystems that humans depend on but they also create challenges which threaten the very existence of humanity.
Diseases are some of the risks that come with unpredictable weather cycles making it hard to predict or curtail outbreaks.
With increased disease outbreaks, there is strain on available resources which include human, technical and financial. In addition, time is usually limited if it becomes an issue of race against an epidemic.
Is Africa ready for the risks associated with climate change?
A look at the response in most countries in Africa shows that while governments may do the best they can to contain outbreaks, the changing climate phenomenon may make it harder since pathogens that cause the diseases may be mutating and becoming resistant to available drugs.
This means that without the capacity to keep researching and producing new and stronger drugs, the diseases could get out of control risking the lives of millions. The cost implication of such a scenario is not only in financial terms but also in lives.
With people being the basic unit of any production, a threat to life means a threat to the world’s existence as we know it today.
Malaria in Kenya
In September last year, Kenya’s health ministry said that several counties in Kenya were experiencing elevated levels of malaria cases with a marked strain on the health care delivery system.The Kenyan government for the past several months has been battling malaria outbreaks in Baringo, Turkana, West Pokot, Marsabit, Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo, Marakwet counties.
The government has been assuring residents of its commitment to ensure the upsurge of malaria is under control. “The most affected persons are children under the age of five years and expectant women,” said the ministry.
An evolving malaria epidemic in Kenya: A regional alert— a paper published by Chrismed Journal of Health and Research, Mulambalah CS from the Department of Medical Microbiology and Parasitology, Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, notes that there was a severe malaria epidemic in September–October 2017 that started in five counties andquickly spread to 10 counties within the semi–arid regions of Kenya. These counties are the same ones the government said were experiencing an upsurge in malarial infections.
In addition, Samburu, Mandera, Isiolo, Wajir, Lamu and Tana River were other counties that were hard hit by the disease caused by a plasmodium.
According to Mulambalah, weather patterns determine the likelihood of a worsening situation with rains playing a major role in creating an enabling environment for the breeding of mosquitoes, the vectors of the disease.
An interesting point to note is that the disease is also ravaging regions which are traditionally not associated with the malady. What could spiral the situation out of control is that the populations in these regions have no immunity against malaria since, naturally, it has not existed in these areas before.
To contain the situation, Mulambalah notes that stakeholders should appreciate the changing patterns of malaria transmission caused by climate and human factors.
Leading cause of death
While research continues in the endeavor to eradicate malaria, the disease remains a leading cause of death in Kenya.
The disease is becoming resistant to the Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs) meaning that governments have to spend more on research and creating new drugs to eradicate the disease.
Already, South East Asia is experiencing the resistant malaria parasites and it is only a matter of time before this challenge docks in Africa.
The latest world malaria report by WHO released in December 2019 shows that there was a slight decline of malaria in 2018 where 228 million cases were reported compared to 231 million cases in 2017.
Estimated deaths due to malaria stood at 405,000 in 2018 compared to 416 000 deaths in 2017. Africa bore the brunt of the disease burden with 93 per cent of the cases being reported on the continent. There were 213 million in the African Region alone.
In this period, Nigeria (25%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (12%), Uganda (5%), Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique and Niger (4% each) were the six countries accounting for more than half of all malaria cases worldwide, according to WHO.
WHO notes that antimalarial drug resistance is a recurring problem but there are steps being taken to ensure that the disease is under control.
Dealing with climate change and spread of infectious diseases
Many African nations are now taking the initiative to slow down the effects of climate change by adopting mitigating methods to help curtail the challenges occasioned by the phenomenon.
In countries like Kenya, there have been several campaigns to plant trees, reclaiming ecosystems and re-greening large swathes of land left bare by overexploitation. With such efforts, it is likely that Africa can slow down the effects of climate change which brings about diseases.
On another front, in the fight against malaria, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi began introducing the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) vaccine in selected areas of moderate and high malaria transmission in 2019.
The multi-prong approach to tackle the challenges shows that the continent or at least some of the countries are taking action against possible disasters.