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Our health and global warming

The Punch logo The Punch 19/01/2020 The Punch
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Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie

The science behind the arguments in support of the specter of a warming planet is probably now inescapably true. The evidence is here with us: from the raging bush fires burning out of control in Australia to the arctic blast of cold air witnessed in 2019 in the United States and Canada, trouble seems to abound everywhere in the world.

We have seen in the last fortnight the unforgiving flooding in and around Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, now acknowledged as the world’s most rapidly sinking city to the overflowing canals in the Italian city of Venice where too much water has caused the city to empty slowly of both inhabitants and tourists. During the summer of 2019, a huge iceberg the size of Singapore broke off the coast of Greenland and soon melted into the North Atlantic. Coastal countries like The Seychelles feel the impact of such rises on the volume of ocean water and, it is forecast to continue.

All that is a digression, however, but the preamble cannot be discarded in the context of understanding how these profound changes taking place around us will impact on our health and food supply. It is clear that the population displacement which these changes will effect will potentially shift the nature and incidence of some disease conditions while setting off some new ones which were not native to the new environment. Therefore, climate change will affect the social and environmental factors which determine what good health should be. When these factors are adversely impacted by grave environmental changes as we have seen above, there could be major upheavals. In sub-Saharan Africa where the peoples have long suffered from a harsh environment and official neglect by incompetent governments at all levels, the social convulsions may be more than we can ultimately imagine. Since the last century, strategic planners have warned about the potential for international wars breaking out in those places over access to water.

Safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter in addition to the availability of clean air in a hospitable environment are the important yardsticks by which societal progress can be measured. The absence of all the above or their scarcity or damage done to them where they once existed is now forecast to cause a further 250,000 additional deaths every year between 2030 and 2050 from malaria, malnutrition, heat stress and diarrhea according to the World Health Organisation.

The areas of the world with weak health infrastructure, especially in developing countries, will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond. With many of the traditional donor countries grappling with economic problems of their own, many such nations will not be able to attract any further assistance and the future for such nations will become even bleaker. In addition, there is donor fatigue because most donated money has historically found its way into private pockets.

The direct damage to our health, if you exclude the costs in health-determining sectors like agriculture, water and sanitation is estimated to range between $2 and $4 bn per annum by 2030, a mere 10 years from now. And we are not prepared nor do we even acknowledge that there is a looming problem. Sea levels are rising annually as we have seen above and weather conditions are becoming increasingly extreme.

More than half of the world’s population lives within 60 kilometers of the coast and many of them may be forced to move further inland, taking with them many communicable diseases, possible mental disorders and a heightened risk of armed conflict. Sickness and violence will kill people in their millions. Changes in climactic conditions will also influence the prevalence of common diseases like malaria and typhoid fever while many other conditions will be transmitted by snails, insects and other cold-blooded animals.

Rising sea levels as we have seen in Jakarta, Venice and The Seychelles and other extreme weather conditions will destroy homes, medical facilities and other essential services. That scenario will engender the spread of infections and diseases. The increasingly variable rainfall patterns such as we have seen even in Nigeria will adversely affect the supply of safe water, compromise people’s hygiene in huge numbers and progressively increase the incidence of childhood diarrhoea which kills more than half a million children under the age of five years at present. In extreme cases, water scarcity will lead to drought and famine. Already, floods are also increasing in frequency and intensity. Heavy rainfall is now a norm and it is associated with flash flooding, landslides and low pressure systems that increase the incidence of contamination of freshwater supplies.

In addition, there will be an increase in the incidence of water-borne diseases. More flooding will create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes which transmit malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever. These diseases occurring at different times or together with other illnesses will bring about the loss of many man-hours among the working age-group and cause the loss of income among the most productive sector of the general population. All of these could contribute to the overall picture of malnutrition and undernutrition which currently cause more than three million deaths every year in developing countries. The frustration which all this could cause would probably lead to the increased risk of civil disobedience and sporadic violence particularly in the areas where there is poor infrastructure with nearly non-existent access to proper health care.

Prime arable land will be lost to seasonal flooding, human migration and other population activities at a time when there will be even more mouths to feed. In addition, the frequency and severity of these seasonal changes are even expected to get worse as the years go by with the result that yet more deaths could result. For example, extremes in environmental temperatures are already a fact with us. In the extreme cold in Europe and North America in 2019, there were many deaths mostly involving the elderly from hypothermia. In the same way, last summer in Europe was the hottest since records began and there were also many deaths mainly from heat stroke. While extreme heat leads to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, extreme cold causes heart attacks and frost bite. There is also an increase in physical injuries from falls during winter and drowning during flooding. Currently, a particularly harsh harmattan season in West Africa has led to a spike in respiratory tract infections.

Questions and answers

Dear doctor, what is the cure for a young university undergraduate who was treated for malaria and typhoid but is now diagnosed with typhoid psychosis? She now has these symptoms: hallucination, always talking to herself, not sleeping at night, delusions and hearing internal voices? 0705xxxxxxx

The diagnosis of the condition you mentioned is often made by a physician who may then refer your ward to a psychiatrist. They have the solution to the problem by way of psychotherapy, diversional therapy and medications. The associated typhoid once confirmed, will need to be completely treated in addition to the therapy for her psychosis and often, such patients make a complete recovery.

Dear doctor, I sent you this mesage from Edo state. Please, I do not have the ability to sustain an erection. Please advise me on the treatment. I am 24 years old and have had this problem for about three years now. Thank you. 0813xxxxxxx

Thank you very much for your question. We have talked about this particular problem on this page over a long time and dealt with various modes in which problem often presents itself. However, at 24 you are probably too young to have a problem of this nature. I would advise that you go to your doctor for examination and obtain relevant advice and treatment based on what is found. That would be the best way to approach this issue and get to the bottom of it. Without such tests being conducted, treatment may not be achievable.

Dear doctor, please I need your help. My blood level is 180/110mmHg and my feet are heavy. I have been taking Amlodipine 10mg. I told my doctor and he said he didn’t not know what he could do about it. Please what other drug can I take? 0806xxxxxxx

I believe that you are not being treated by a doctor. It is clear that the Amlodipine you are taking is not able to do the job. This is not a simple question, however, of simply adding another medication to what you currently use; your blood pressure is too high and your heavy feet may be an early indication that your heart is tending towards failing. In these circumstances, you need to find a proper hospital without further delay and have a thorough examination done. You will almost certainly need to have the required treatment on admission in the hospital that you may eventually choose.

Dear doctor, happy new year to you. It is only God that can reward you for the service you are rendering. I am 65 years old and diabetic. Of recent, I have been experiencing serious heart-burn. It happens when I take anything oily, peppery or acidic like lime or lemon. Sometimes, it is with tea and bread or oats can trigger it. I get immediate relief if I take Gaviscon (double action). My drugs are Panfor and Exforge and sometimes, I take Tadalis as well. Please advise me. God bless you. 0803xxxxxxx

Happy new year to you as well sir and thank you very much for your prayers. Taking Gaviscon is in order especially as it brings you swift relief. However, it is important to determine what this recent development is about and you will need to go to a hospital and have a simple test done to find out if you have got Helicobacter pylori in your stomach. If that test is positive, then this problem can be cured with a combination of medications and you could have no further need for the Gaviscon.

Dear doctor, did you hear about the conjoined twins separated in Abuja hospital? It was not an easy task. What do you have to say? Tell me please. Our doctors are doing well. 0806xxxxxxx

It is probably the most positive news to have come out of Nigeria in a long time but that is partly because other successful separations of conjoined twins have not had as much publicity. So this particular one was not the first time such an operation was being conducted in Nigeria. In May 2018, a similar operation was conducted at the Federal Medical Centre, Yola, Adamawa State, by another team of surgeons on four-month- old babies who survived in the second such operation in that hospital. The one you mentioned at the National Hospital Abuja were older and it buttresses the fact you made regarding the quality of Nigerian doctors.

Dear doctor, please can too much consumption of soft drinks cause kidney sickness? I normally take at least two bottles daily. Your advice is needed sir. 0703xxxxxxx

To a large extent, the answer to your question is yes. However, the kidney sickness you mentioned is one I would rather describe as kidney damage and it occurs indirectly. The drinking of soft drinks, also called sodas or carbonated drinks, on a daily basis can lead to hypertension or diabetes. Either of these diseases or both can cause a reduction in kidney function through progressive damage over time, kidney failure and the formation of kidney stones. These beverages can therefore dramatically increase your risk of suffering serious health issues other than just the kidneys which you asked about above.

Dear doctor, there’s a doctor in Anambra State who goes about saying that he can reverse diabetes. I think the doctor is a fraud. Happy New Year sir. Cheers. 0806xxxxxxx

Well, I believe that if he was a proper doctor, he would not need to go about seeking to validate his claim. However, there are certain circumstances in which diabetes might be reversible and if this is what he refers to, there may some truth to his claim. At any rate, it is pretty unusual to have a doctor who ‘goes about’ as you put it to say what he is able to do. That does not look like a professional, it does not sound like one and it does not smell like one. Other than that, he may be a great doctor. Have a great weekend.

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