As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, many environmentalists and policymakers are discussing steps for the future with regard to reducing carbon footprints, saving energy, and restoring the world’s deteriorating ecosystems. In fact, a key debate on the blogosphere and news wires this week surrounds the issue of the environmental refugee—a term used by the UN and others to define a person that has been displaced because of environmental causes, notably land loss and degradation of land, and natural disaster, according to the UN Statistics Division.
Although the actual numbers are still under debate, the fact is that there are more refugees today that have been forced to leave their homes because of changes to their climate and environment than those fleeing war zones. Whether one believes in global warming or not, the facts demonstrate that the Earth is changing. Certain locations in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, that used to rely on annual rainfalls for their crops and livelihoods have been left without significant rainfall for months if not years. As a result, they have had to leave their homes for wetter lands just to survive. In many cases, residents of these areas have had to move into more populated, suburban or urban areas.
I’ll leave it to the environmentalists and policymakers to discuss these issues in more detail, but there is a point here relevant to the pharmaceutical industry. With migration and the growth of environmental refugees comes the spread of disease, especially infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Climate change can aggravate infectious diseases by increasing the temperatures under which many diseases and their carriers flourish, by stressing and altering habitats, and by causing migrations, according to the UN Environmental Program. Populations entering new areas may also be more susceptible to already existing diseases in that environment.
Many pharma companies are working at the local level to address disease prevention and treatments in these affected locations, which PharmTech reports on through a column devoted to the industry’s role in global healthcare efforts.
Earth Day is great for raising awareness of these issues. But the resolution of these problems depends on our attending to these global health challenges daily. While pharmaceutical companies may not be able to stop the world’s ecosystems from crumbling, they can make an impact by reducing their carbon footprint and by continuing in their efforts to improve access to healthcare education and treatment to the populations that need it most.