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How climate change contributes to infectious diseases, by experts

The 5th African Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity organised by Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium got underway at the Sheraton Hotels in Abuja on Wednesday, August 7, 2019 with the them: “Climate Change and Conflict: Implications for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity in Africa”. The three-day event brings together world’s experts to identify regional and international opportunities for collaboration in responding to Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID).

Group Picture at GET
L-R: Prof Chikwe Ihekweazu, DG, NCDC; Bello Scholastica, Representing Rufus Ebegba, DG/CEO NBMA; Mr John Asein, Director Nigeria Copyright Commission; Keynote Speaker, Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, Doctor of Infectious Disease; Prof Akin Abayomi, Principal Investigator – GET

Opening the event, Prof Akin Abayomi, a Professor of Medicine and Health Science and the Principal Investigator for the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium, revealed the connection between climate change and Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID).

Prof. Abayomi said: “The poor management of waste and unchecked use of chemicals has contributed to the rise of infectious diseases. Whatever we do on the surface of the earth is reflected in the water table that ends up carrying pathogens and heavy metals that are harmful to the body.

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“The pressure on water is enormous, when we look at the drying up of the Lake Chad, a source of livelihood for 350 million people in 4 countries – Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, it has increased tension in the region. Wherever you have conflicts and insecurity there is always the opportunity for biosecurity threats.”

Making reference to why Ebola spread rapidly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Prof Abayomi highlighted the reasons to include: lack of human resources, the economic and financial resources to cope, the inaccessibility of remote location where the disease was on the rise, the inexperience of staff to handle the strange disease and the lack of specialised infrastructure for dangerous pathogens.

In a keynote address, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, called for a dynamic approach to address biosecurity and climate change on the African continent.

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In a presentation titled “Biosecurity and Climate Threat: The Role of National Public Health Institutes”, Dr. Ihekweazu tied the infectious outbreak of diseases to the growing population, urbanisation, poverty and social inequality.

“In every case, there are three basic components of infectious diseases, namely the Environment, the Agent and the Host. With Nigeria’s population growing at 2.3% yearly on a fixed landscape, it is worrisome that the consequences of infectious diseases outbreak are high. The absence of vaccine in commercially available scale and increased rodent-human interactions have made it difficult to directly address these issues,” he said.

He called on relevant stakeholders to organise themselves “in answering the many questions about Biosafety, we need to move from anecdote to science. This requires that the academia, the government, research institutes and international experts have to come together to address both the problems and perceptions.”

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In his concluding remarks, the NCDC boss stressed that, to address the increasing threats of infectious diseases caused by climate change in Africa, “we must recognise that a public health event can go from local to global very rapidly; hence, to ensure global health security there must be local health protection and strong health surveillance systems.”

Also attending the conference are Dr. Nahid Bhadelia; Dr. Rufus Ebegba, Director-General, National Biosafety Management Agency (NMBA); and Dr. Peter Tarfa, Director, Department of Climate Change at the Federal Ministry of Environment, among others.

Prior to this, the African Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity held in Dakar, Accra, Lagos and Freetown in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.

The objective of the 5th edition of the conference is to discuss and debate the impact of the changing climate on Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) and Biosecurity in Africa, as well as to discuss the rising insecurity and the influence of non-state actors on biosecurity in Africa.

By ‘Seyifunmi Adebote

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