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Climate Change and the Rise in Infectious Diseases in Africa


Climate change is no longer a distant threat. As global temperatures rise, we are witnessing a considerable impact on our environment, ecosystems and human health. A recent article by the BBC1 even suggests that the next pandemic could be fuelled by an unstable climate.

Changing temperatures lead to animals moving to different regions – giving pathogens opportunities to jump between hosts. Because of this, climate change increases the threat of diseases emerging.

Climate change is altering the disease map. Higher average temperatures and increased rainfall or humidity encourages the spread of some vector-borne diseases in new areas. Bacterial food and water-borne gastrointestinal infections are also on the increase. And the increasing impacts of climate change are already being felt in Africa and globally.

As the disease map shifts, Africa has witnessed an increase in infectious diseases such as malaria, cholera and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). This was also highlighted at COP28 in December 2023 where organisers held the first-ever Health Day – with the conversation focusing on how climate change relating to extreme heat, air pollution and the spread of vector-borne diseases, is affecting health in countries that have never experienced them before.

Data shows that cholera has made a comeback after years of steady decline. 30 countries faced cholera outbreaks in 2022 – an alarming 145% increase from the previous five-year average2.

The recent global cholera outbreak accounted for over 667,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths globally last year. The Eastern and Southern African nations are among the worst affected, with about 75% of the fatalities and a third of the cases as of January 20243.

Cholera transmission is directly linked to a lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities. As per the WHO, extreme climate events like floods, cyclones and droughts reduce access to clean water and create an ideal environment for cholera to thrive. In vulnerable communities that already struggle with access to clean water, these events create the ideal environments for infectious diseases to spread.

A 2022 review published in Nature Climate Change showed that of 375 infectious diseases studied, 58% have been aggravated by climate change4. Pathogens or insects carrying infectious diseases are moving into habitats that were previously too cold for them. This is especially happening with mosquito-borne illnesses.

The incidence of dengue for example has increased 30-fold over the last 50 years. Almost half of the world’s population is now at risk. High humidity and temperatures favour mosquito survival which then increases the likelihood of transmission.

A study by The Royal Society5 found evidence that Anopheles mosquitoes – responsible for carrying malaria – have undergone rapid range shifts over the twentieth century. This rapid expansion could be among one of the most severe climate change impacts on African biodiversity that has been observed to date. In 2022, Africa was home to around 94% of global malaria cases and deaths. When malaria causes up to $12 billion in lost productivity annually worldwide, the (very real) possibility of it getting worse due to climate change is concerning.

What Does it Mean for Organisations?

For organisations operating in Africa, the increasing impact of climate change and the rise in infectious diseases present a significant challenge in terms of global health security that cannot be ignored. The need to adapt to these changing conditions is more urgent than ever, as they have the potential to disrupt supply chains, increase operational costs, and threaten the health and wellbeing of employees.

Isabelle Hagner, Director of Public Health, Africa at International SOS, explains that “to stay resilient in this evolving landscape, businesses must prioritise sustainability practices, invest in resilience-building initiatives, and collaborate with local communities and governments.

According to Hagner, organisations operating in Africa should consider implementing a range of key interventions to effectively address the challenges posed by climate change and the rise in infectious diseases. She recommends:

  • Investing in sustainable practices such as energy efficiency measures, waste reduction initiatives, and the use of renewable energy sources to minimise their carbon footprint and reduce their impact on the environment.
  • Prioritising employee health and safety by providing access to healthcare resources.
  • Promoting vaccination programmes and implementing hygiene protocols to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Leveraging technology and data analytics to monitor environmental changes, track disease outbreaks, and make informed decisions that enhance resilience and preparedness against future crises.

Hagner also shares that

Collaboration with local communities and government agencies is also essential, as it can help organisations stay informed about climate-related risks and emerging health threats. It also helps facilitate the development of holistic solutions that benefit all stakeholders.
Organisations should consider adopting a proactive approach to risk management by conducting regular risk assessments, developing robust business continuity plans, and establishing partnerships with relevant stakeholders to ensure a coordinated response to emergencies.
By embracing these interventions, businesses can not only mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change and infectious diseases, but also foster a more sustainable and resilient future for themselves and the communities they serve.

  1. Fevered Planet: How a shifting climate is catalysing infectious disease
  2. Cholera is endangering children globally
  3. Cholera cases soar globally; Malawi, Haiti deadliest outbreaks, WHO reports
  4. Over half of known human pathogenic diseases can be aggravated by climate change
  5. Rapid range shifts in African Anopheles mosquitoes over the last century