EcoHealth Forum does not end here

I was catching a connecting flight in Mexico City on my way back from the EcoHealth Forum 2008 when the conference logo on a hand-made bag jumped at me. It got me thinking how the conference days have come and gone, but the work of climate scientists, researchers, journalists, and policy makers is just getting started.

The environment-friendly bag made from natural maguey cactus fibers belonged to a young man who most certainly took back home more than just a bag filled with research documents, conference notes, and unforgettable momentos of his trip to Mérida, Mexico. He was carrying the hope the world will not simply sit back and watch how our environment and health will deteriorate as a result of global warming.

The young man is among 700 green enthusiasts from about 70 countries who participated in the International EcoHealth Forum 2008. By comparison, about 400 people showed up at the Montreal conference in 2003, a clear indication climate change is a growing concern.

To put it in the words of Dr. Mario Henry Rodríguez López, conference chair and head of Mexican National Institute of Public Health: “It is fantastic to see the amount of young people that came to (the conference). It is inspirational to see new blood into the movement,” he said in his closing remarks at the gala dinner Dec. 4. “Many people after the conference say `thanks God it is finished,` but it is not finished. We are just starting; we are leaving this city with new ideas, with new impetus to change the world.”

As for me, the EcoHealth Forum was an eye-opener and a confirmation of the essential role journalists play in broadening public consciousness of environmental and health issues.

The forum dedicated a considerable amount of time tackling the close link between climate change and the emergence of mosquito-borne viral diseases, such as malaria and dengue, in developing countries.

As global temperature continues to increase, glaciers to melt, sea levels to rise, the potential of frequent bouts of extreme weather (heat waves, heavy precipitation, intense hurricanes) will accelerate, heightening the risk of illnesses and stress-related disorders. The elderly, young children and the poor are at highest risk of being hit. Poorly designed irrigation and water storage systems, inadequate housing, poor waste disposal, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity are facilitating the transmission of mosquito-borne viral diseases.

Malaria, the most deadly vector borne-disease, kills over 1.2 million people annually, mostly African children under the age of five, while dengue is the world´s fastest growing vector-borne disease. As many as 2.5 billion people worldwide live in areas where dengue viruses can be transmitted, according to World Health Organization.

This is only a fraction of the grim picture climate scientists are painting today. But if climate change concerns continue to expand, the next EcoHealth Forum, which will be held in London, England, in 2010, will undoubtedly attest to that.