Experts warn climate change is increasing risk of diseases in NepalPointing at the dengue outbreaks in different parts of the country, experts say that the government needs to take immediate measures.
Dengue outbreaks in different parts of the country have killed at least three people and infected more than 5,000 others in the last four months. The disease has spread in 42 districts, with the government agencies still scrambling to find a way to contain it.
This year, dengue cases have been reported from Nuwakot, Sindhuli, Panchthar, Myagdi, Parbat, Gorkha, Lamjung, Gulmi, Darchula Baitadi and Aacham, among other districts, where the disease was previously non-endemic.
Experts attribute the surge in dengue as well as diseases like kala-azar and malaria to rise in temperatures due to climate change.
“These days, vectors of dengue, kala-azar and malaria can easily survive in the hill and mountain regions, which were considered safe from these diseases in the past,” Dr Megnath Dhimal, chief researcher at the Nepal Health Research Council, told the Post. “Burden of diseases will increase differently and in new forms due to the change in temperatures and climatic pattern.”
A latest study of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development shows that the average annual maximum temperature of the country has risen by 0.056 degrees Celsius between 1971 and 2014.
The average annual mean temperature may see a rise by 0.92-1.07 degrees Celsius in the medium-term period (2016-2045) and 1.30-1.82 degrees Celsius in the long-term period (2036-2065), according to the study.
Climate change poses a risk of multiple health complications, but people are not aware of the strategies to mitigate the risks factors, according to Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
“Even the government is not prepared to deal with the risks posed by climate change,” Marasini said. “Health workers are not prepared to deal with disease epidemics. Reagents and medicines are not supplied and people are not made aware of the infection risk.”
Most of the districts where dengue virus has been detected lack vector control inspectors, who are trained to deal with outbreaks of contagious diseases.
Even the Health Ministry is unaware of the presence of vectors in hill and mountain districts.
The government does not allocate budget to prepare against a possible outbreak of diseases, according to Marasini.
Only a few dengue cases have been reported in Tarai districts, where the government has allocated budget, supplied kits for test and trained health workers to treat dengue.
The maximum temperature in these districts is above 35 degrees Celsius, where dengue-causing mosquitoes cannot survive, according to Ghanshyam Pokhrel, a vector control inspector serving at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
Dengue-causing mosquitoes survive in temperatures between 15 to 35 degrees Celsius.
“It is high time the government allocated budget, conducted study of vectors, launched awareness drive, sensitised all three tiers of government agencies and prepared the people to deal with climate change-induced epidemics,” Marasini said. “We have to change our strategy as the disease pattern changes with the change in climate.”
The disease control division concedes that it is ill-prepared to deal with outbreaks of contagious diseases.
“People are less aware of the diseases and their consequences,” Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at the division, said. “Efforts from multiple agencies of government and non-government sectors are needed to deal with the growing burden of climate change-induced epidemics.”
The Health Ministry recently launched Health National Adaptation Plan to protect the citizens from adverse effects of climate change by enhancing the partnership on health sectors.
The ministry has said it would launch public awareness programmes, carry out research, conduct capacity building training to health professionals and set up early warning systems to respond to adverse health effects of climate change.