- Research has found that climate change is highly likely to affect the incidence and distribution of major infectious diseases such as meningitis
- Global outbreaks of meningitis have been linked to high temperatures, airborne dust and close contact – all of which are set to increase as a result climate change
- Climate change could undo years of progress that has been made in global health
Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) has warned of the uncertain future of infectious disease control in the face of climate change.
The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change concluded in 2015 that the ongoing impact of climate change could undo 50 years of gains in global health. Six years later, as global leaders prepare to gather in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), MRF has issued a stark warning that a failure to address climate change could have significant consequences for infectious diseases, including deadly meningitis, in future.
“Climate change is very serious concern for those of us working to defeat meningitis,” said Vinny Smith, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) and the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO). “We know that meningitis outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa are associated with dusty dry conditions, and modelling estimates indicate these conditions could spread if climate change continues unchecked. Epidemics are more common in the sub-Saharan area of Africa known as the ‘meningitis belt’ than anywhere else in the world and if the ‘meningitis belt’ expands then many more people could be at risk of this devastating disease.”
Among preventable diseases, meningitis has one of the highest fatality and long-term impairment rates, and can cause devastating epidemics. Researchers from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research have found that, in Nigeria, future temperature increases as a result of climate change could increase the number of meningitis cases significantly.
Additionally, the charity is concerned that increased global migration - a predicted impact of climate change – could lead to higher cases of meningitis worldwide, as meningitis is passed by close contact.
“Outbreaks of meningitis are not uncommon in refugee camps, during pilgrimages and at mass gatherings,” said Vinny. “Whenever people gather together in close spaces, as they are increasingly likely to do if climate change forces migration, we would be concerned about the potential for an infectious disease epidemic.”
Brian Davies, Advocacy Manager at MRF added: “As Covid-19 has reminded us, disease knows no borders and a global response is needed to protect the health of everyone. Heads of State attending COP26 must take urgent steps to mitigate against further climate change. If climate action isn’t increased dramatically now, all our health and lives will suffer.”
Last month the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the first Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis, which sets forth a vision and strategy to defeat meningitis by 2030.
“Great progress has been made in defeating deadly infectious diseases over recent decades,” said Vinny Smith. “Vaccines are available that can prevent some of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis. Climate change threatens not only to undo the progress that has been made, but the progress we are on the cusp of making too.”