Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper of 2017 recognises that climate change poses a range of economic, environmental, and security risks to countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Although there is still much to be learned about the complex pathways by which climate change affects human and animal health, it is generally acknowledged that climate change is likely to threaten global health security by influencing the emergence, resurgence, and distribution of infectious diseases around the world.
Some of the health security risks that may be influenced by climate change include:
Vector-borne diseases: Many vectors of disease (such as mosquitoes) are affected by climatic factors including temperature and rainfall. Climate change is expected to alter the frequency and geographical distribution of diseases such as malaria, dengue, and Zika. Strengthening routine surveillance of vectors and the diseases spread by them will help countries in our region to better prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to outbreaks.
Zoonotic diseases (diseases spread from animals to people): Climate change can also contribute to increased migration and displacement of both people and animals, as well as changes in land use patterns and agricultural practices, which put people and animals into contact in new ways. The risks of zoonotic disease transmission are worsened by inadequate access to veterinary and human health services. This is of particular concern in rural and remote areas, and among vulnerable and displaced populations.
Disaster preparedness and response: Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of weather events and natural disasters such as cyclones, droughts, and floods. The impact of these events on access to safe water and sanitation can increase the risk of water-borne and other infectious disease outbreaks, such as typhoid and cholera. Implementing early warning systems and ensuring that national plans include an awareness of the disease risks that may arise during or after a natural disaster can improve detection and accelerate response. Pre-emptive measures such as preventive vaccination campaigns and pre-positioning of essential medical supplies can also help to reduce the impact should an outbreak occur.
Health systems infrastructure: Strong health systems are best placed to prepare for and respond to the health impacts of climate change, as well as other health emergencies. ‘Climate-smart’ health facilities, laboratories, and related critical infrastructure (including digital infrastructure and surveillance systems), designed to withstand severe weather events, are an important component of strong health systems. This is particularly important in the Pacific islands, which are vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather events.
The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security aims to inform evidence-based planning, help prevent avoidable epidemics, strengthen early detection capacity, and support rapid, effective national and international outbreak responses. We adopt a holistic perspective informed by the principles of One Health (i.e., recognising the interconnectedness of humans, animals, and the environment, and the importance of multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary cooperation). We work collaboratively with our partners to identify potential climate-related or environmental risks, including recognising where those risks differently affect specific population groups.
To learn more about the impacts of climate change on health security, see the Health Security in the Indo-Pacific State of the Region 2019 report. More about Australia’s development assistance for climate change can be found here.