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Climate crisis puts Europe’s health at risk

We highlighted several climate risks for human health for Europe. The key ones are morbidity and mortality arising from increased heat stress together with air pollution; geographic expansion and increased transmission of infectious diseases (focus of IDAlert); proliferation of antimicrobial-resistant Pathogens; pressure on health systems due to increased climate change induced morbidity and hospital admissions; and risks to outdoor workers due to increased heat stress.

Climate change induced health impacts and risks are projected to throughout Europe, however, southern Europe is at highest risk according to most of our key risk indicators. The region has already experienced negative health impacts due to historical climate change, and it is increasingly warm enough for mosquitoes to transmit tropical diseases such as dengue and chikungunya, with several small-scale outbreaks in recent years. Due to future climate change, heat-related mortality, risk of infectious diseases, and occupational health impacts are projected to increase substantially in this region. 

Climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged population groups, including lower-income households, the elderly, children, youth, migrants, outdoor workers, pregnant women, and those with pre-existing health conditions. Europe’s ageing population, high urbanisation rate, changing patterns of societal inequality and high incidences of non-communicable diseases make the region particularly vulnerable to climate-related health risks. 

Early warning systems and improved disease surveillance are needed alongside increased coordination between the EU and its Member States is needed to enable more systemic actions, such as new vector and infectious disease control programmes, health action plans, adaptation strategies and resilience measures, and implementation of labour protection regulations.

The main major barrier to increase the resilience of health systems in Europe is the fact that public health is under the jurisdiction of Member States, but climate change-induced health impacts are a pan-European issue. Institutional barriers further complicate widespread implementation of health policy measures. Increased coordination of health policies and actions across scales and between Member States is needed to ensure timely and effective responses for a diversity of health impacts. A priority area for EU policy is addressing increasingly serious cross-border health threats linked to pathogens with high epidemic and pandemic potential. Improved risk assessment and management plans for cross-border health threats include looking into specific viral families of concern, also considering the zoonotic nature of most high-consequence emerging infectious diseases. For the labour force, labour protection laws stipulating reasonable and maximum temperature thresholds for working will have to be mandated by government agencies.

IDAlert will co-create novel policy-relevant pan-European indicators that track past, present, and future climate-induced disease risk using EcoHealth and One Health systems perspective with an emphasis on societal inequality. The consortium will generate tools to assess cost-benefit of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures to identify policy entry points. Disease surveillance and early warning and response systems will be co-created to aid infectious disease prevention and control and in-turn increase health system resilience at regional and local levels. All our indicators and tools will involve multilevel engagement, innovative methodologies to combine existing and new data streams with citizen science. Another key outcome of IDAlert will be a decision support tool to enable policy makers to make rapid assessments of the impact of climate policies on infectious disease outcomes. As such, IDAlert is uniquely positioned to provide evidence-based support and recommendations to EU climate and health policies.

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