Climate Change Threatens Decades of Infectious Disease Progress

One of the most pressing crises of our time is arguably climate change. As our planet continues to warm and weather patterns become increasingly erratic, the intersection between climate change, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), and eye health becomes impossible to ignore.

As shared in a 2023 World Health Organization publication, “The last 70 years have witnessed remarkable triumphs in global health, with infectious diseases being eliminated or controlled at unprecedented rates. However, these monumental achievements are now under threat.

The 2020s have emerged as a critical tipping point, with once-controlled diseases re-emerging and spreading to new geographies.”

Today, our fight against blindness is more complex than ever.

Climate Change Breeds NTDs

One of the most significant ways climate change affects NTDs is by altering the transmission dynamics of these diseases. Changes in temperature, precipitation, and humidity can create more favorable conditions for the production of disease vectors such as mosquitoes, flies, and snails. 

For example, increased rainfall can lead to the expansion of breeding sites for mosquitoes and the spread of waterborne diseases like schistosomiasis. While rising temperatures can extend the transmission season of diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

The phenomenon of these layered conditions is the “perfect storm,” as the same low-income countries and communities that are most affected by NTDs are also most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In fact, extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts, can exacerbate poverty, disrupt healthcare services, and displace populations, creating ideal conditions for the spread of NTDs. Or changes in agricultural productivity and food security due to climate change can further exacerbate malnutrition and make vulnerable populations more prone to infectious diseases.


Climate Change Weakens Healthcare Systems

NTDs continue to be the leading cause of vision loss and blindness, affecting more than 1 billion individuals globally. For areas already burdened by NDTs, such as the Francophone African countries we serve, climate change poses significant challenges to healthcare infrastructure and delivery systems. 

Extreme weather events can damage healthcare facilities, interrupt the supply chain of essential medicines, and hinder access to healthcare for those in need. The strain on healthcare resources caused by climate-related disasters can divert attention and resources away from NTD control and elimination efforts, leading to setbacks in disease management.


OPC’s Commitment to Eliminating NTDs

While OPC is not immune to weather-related obstacles, we pride ourselves on our flexibility and adaptability when unexpected challenges arise. Our resilience is fueled by our mission, which has led us to remote areas of Africa for decades.

Our experience has helped us forge partnerships with local communities and ministries of health, allowing us to strengthen healthcare infrastructure and capacity in vulnerable communities to ensure timely diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of NTDs. 

We also educate and train school staff, parents, and individuals on the importance of sanitation in the prevention of NTDs. Raising awareness helps us combat the effects of changing environmental conditions and reduce the transmission of NTDs. 

While our collective progress in eliminating NTDs is threatened by the climate change crisis, OPC remains committed to continuing tried and true strategies, as well as the innovative tactics of tomorrow, to manage NTDs and prevent blindness.

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