Paul Epstein: ‘Climate instability may increase pest-borne disease’

Listen to Harvard’s Paul Epstein talk about why climate change could lead to a cluster of problems like water-borne disease, mosquito borne disease, and even rodent-borne disease.

Today, mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are major health problems in the developing world. But by the end of the century, over half of the world’s population might be at risk from these diseases, according to a 2008 report by the Lowy Institute. Dr. Paul Epstein of Harvard says one reason is the current climate instability.

Paul Epstein: We have to focus on stabilizing the climate. It’s the instability that is most disturbing to the pests – the mosquitoes – or the most favorable to them.

Epstein is associate director for the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard. He researches the health impacts of climate change. He told EarthSky that our warming climate is allowing mosquitoes to expand their range – along with the diseases they carry.

Paul Epstein: So as we see warming, we’re seeing malaria, and dengue fever and its vectors move into mountainous areas in Asia, Latin America, Africa. And at the same time we see floods that leave a cluster of problems like water-borne disease, mosquito-borne disease, and even rodent-borne disease.

At the root of all these issues, he said, is the climate instability caused by warming temperatures.

According to a Lowy Institute report, malaria prevalence could be 1.8 to 4.8 times greater in 2050 than 1990. The share of the world’s population living in malaria-endemic zones could also grow from 45 percent to 60 percent by the end of the century. By 2085, an estimated 52 percent of the world’s population, or about 5.2 billion people, will be living in areas at risk of dengue fever.

Our thanks to Paul Epstein.
Paul Epstein is Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lindsay Patterson