March 26, 2009 — Climate change will seriously impact public health, but the United States has yet to allocate adequate research funding to understand and prepare for these impacts, according to a report published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The report suggests that the current knowledge gap regarding climate change and public health is putting multitudes at risk and calls for a major expansion of research to tackle this problem.
The report emphasizes that global warming is expected to worsen many health problems, including heat-related mortality, diarrheal diseases, and diseases associated with exposure to ozone and allergens from the air. Health effects are also likely to result from altered air, water, agriculture, and ecosystems processes, according to the report.
“This paper highlights the gap in our understanding of current impacts of climate on health, and how those impacts may amplify in the future,” says report author Patrick Kinney, ScD, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences and director of the Program in Climate and Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, which is at the forefront of research on climate and health. “Such knowledge is critical if we are to invest wisely in preventive and adaptive responses now that can avert enormous human and financial costs later.”
Despite these facts, federal funding of health research related to climate change is estimated to be less than $3 million per year. This level of U.S. funding, the report states, “appears to be due to the low priority placed on identifying and managing the health risks of climate change by Congress and the Federal government.” The report estimates that more than $200 million is needed annually to sponsor “robust intra- and extramural programs” in federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Funding research on climate change and health “that is directly linked to protective action at the local level is a wise investment, consistent with the goals of restoring economic stability, justice and environmental quality, and reducing healthcare costs,” the report states.
The report is co-written by the same authors who wrote the Climate Change and Human Health chapter in the July 2008 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report: “Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems.” In addition to Dr. Kinney of the Mailman School of Public Health, the authors are from the Environmental Defense Fund, the University of Georgia, the University of Michigan, and Stratus Consulting, Inc.
In recognition of the critical importance of climate change and its adverse effects on health, the Mailman School of Public Health established a Program on Climate and Health in early 2009 led by Dr. Patrick Kinney to provide coordination and leadership to address these issues.