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This series of blog posts is exploring how human rights will be affected by the impact of climate change. This week I am looking at the right to health.
The right to health is not the same as the right to being healthy – it means that everyone should have access to “timely, acceptable, and affordable health care of appropriate quality”. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, about 150 million people suffer financial catastrophe annually, and 100 million are pushed below the poverty line as a result of health care expenditure. We do not realize that our right to health and the inability to protect this actually perpetuates inequality.
Climate change is not commonly linked to how it will affect our health or right to health. But we have already discussed how it will affect our right to food and water, both necessary for human life to survive and be healthy. So it is only natural to more closely examine how this will directly impact our right to health.
Some organizations are already trying to promote this awareness. The Physicians for Social Responsibility stated:
“Although few people are aware of the impact climate change may have on their health, the health effects are serious and widespread. Disease, injury and death can result from climate-induced natural disasters, heat-related illness, pest- and waterborne diseases, air and water pollution and damage to crops and drinking water sources.
Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable.”
What could this look like? To understand this we do not have to look any further than what is already occurring. The UN Chronicle looked at the impact of climate change on health, and noted:
“As early as 2000, the World Health Organization attributed 2.4 per cent of worldwide diarrhea and 6 per cent of malaria cases to climate change. The first large scale, quantifiable impacts on human health are likely to be changes to the geographic range and seasonality of some infectious diseases, including vector-borne infections such as malaria and dengue fever and food-borne infections such as salmonellosis, which peak in warmer months. We have also begun to identify as “climate change casualties” the victims of extreme weather events, such as the 27,000 deaths associated with abnormally high temperatures in the European summer of 2003.
However, the future public health consequences loom even larger.”
Health consequences are both a humane and financial concern. If we do not include efforts to mitigate the effects climate change will have on health in the talks in Paris, our health care systems globally will be burdened with trying to manage a sharp increase.
In order to properly brace for the effects climate change will have on humanity, we need a comprehensive picture of what that looks like. The right to health is the third of a series of six blogs I will share with you as the Paris conference quickly approaches. I will continue to look at how climate change is a threat to other human rights over the next few weeks, and welcome your feedback.