Ahead of COP28 Health Day: Addressing the Growing Threat of Vector-Borne Diseases

Last updated November 29, 2023

Written by: Patty Sanchez Bao, Senior Officer for Global Health, United Nations Foundation

On December 3, the United Arab Emirates Presidency will host the first-ever United Nations Climate Change Conference Health Day at COP28 in Dubai. This is a crucial moment for the global community to rethink climate action in terms of priorities and solutions to address the growing impact of climate change on health 

According to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 3.6 billion people live in areas highly susceptible to climate change, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, air pollution, wildfires, compromised water and land, and food insecurity negatively impact people’s livelihoods and lead to poorer health outcomes.  

The impact of climate change is already straining health systems and will increasingly affect the health and well-being of populations worldwide. Climate change increases the risk of infectious diseases, heat-related illnesses, non-communicable diseases, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Moreover, climate change also induces internal and external migration, putting internally displaced people, refugees, and migrants at a  higher risk of disease exposure and acquisition. 

A recent case study from Pakistan conveys the harmful impacts of extreme weather on population health, leading to mass displacement and the country’s most significant malaria outbreak. Photo: Saiyna Bashir/The Global Fund

Climate change also creates receptive ecosystems for disease-carrying vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and bats, allowing them to thrive and spread to new locations. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that vector-borne diseases account for approximately 17% of global infectious diseases and cause the death of an estimated 1 million people each year; the 2023 World Malaria Report estimates that in 2022 there were approximately 249 million malaria cases and 608,000 malaria deaths worldwide. The risk of infection from vector-borne disease is expected to grow between 2030 and 2050 due to climate change. 

On October 19, the United Nations Foundation, in collaboration with the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), convened a roundtable in Chicago, Illinois, on the sidelines of the 2023 ASTMH Annual Meeting to facilitate south-south action-oriented discussions around the climate and health nexus and offer practical insights to address the increasing impact of climate change on vector-borne diseases.  

Based on these discussions, our latest policy brief highlights two main challenges countries face when addressing emerging and re-emerging vector-borne diseases: unpredictability of transmission patterns and gaps in monitoring and surveillance data. While vector-receptive habitats are growing, the lack of sub-national epidemiological and entomological data prevents adequate quantification of the health resources needed for prevention and response to vector-borne diseases.  

Addressing the impact of climate change on vector-borne diseases requires a multi-sectoral and integrated approach that builds on countries’ existing capacities and allows the most efficient use of resources, including through Integrated disease surveillance and service delivery for common treatable diseases, alignment of emergency preparedness and disaster management activities, and integrated vector control strategies.  

Communities should be at the center of the efforts to prevent and control the higher burden of vector-borne diseases, including by addressing the needs of vulnerable populations and people displaced by climate-related events to achieve our disease elimination goals. 

Countries must leverage available data sets from early warning systems and satellite surveillance meteorological and hydrological data to monitor climate-sensitive disease transmission dynamics and enhance disease predictability. Research implementation data can help determine which tools and strategies best address vector-borne disease transmission.  

Investments in developing and scaling up tools are essential to improve countries’ disease monitoring, surveillance, prevention, and control capacities to address the impact of climate change on health and growing biological threats. These investments must be guided by countries’ priorities and their needs for evidence to inform policy decisions for vector control, diagnosis, and treatment. 

To learn more, download the full policy brief here 

About the Author

Patty Sanchez Bao leads the implementation of the Foundation’s advocacy, communications, and resource mobilization strategy to advance global support for malaria elimination in Latin America and the Caribbean. Patty has many years of experience working on advancing human development for indigenous communities, women, and other vulnerable populations. Patty brings particular expertise in international development, corporate social responsibility, public-private partnerships for poverty alleviation, knowledge management, strategic communication, and systematic monitoring and evaluation. She holds a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Virginia, a Licenciatura in Social Anthropology, and a bachelor’s in social sciences from the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru. 

To get the latest Global Health news from experts like Patty, subscribe to our monthly newsletter.