June 20, 2024

WHO Official Associates Cholera Outbreaks with Climate Change

Cholera outbreaks worldwide are deeply linked to climate change, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Tuesday after a meeting of a key advisory group on immunization.

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Dr. Kate O’Brien, the WHO’s director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals, spoke at a press conference of the organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, known as SAGE.

“I think we do have to acknowledge that the ongoing cholera outbreaks are deeply linked to climate change in emergency and conflict situations and we have raised the alarm on cholera,” said O’Brien.

“It’s not only about vaccines; certainly, they’re not the first line of defense against cholera. Cholera is a disease that affects clean water and clean sanitation. Vaccines are a method of preventing disease when it’s present.”

O’Brien also said the world was currently gearing up for measles outbreaks.

“With outbreaks ongoing, climate change, populations on the move and humanitarian crises, the prevention of disease through immunization couldn’t be more important than it is now,” she said.

She said immunization programs have shown that resilience to diseases is at the heart of responding to new pathogens, “in particular pathogens like we’ve all just experienced, the COVID-19 disease.”

She said the SAGE group had recently previewed new tuberculosis vaccines and several TB vaccines are in the pipeline to prevent adolescent and adult disease.

“TB is one of the most impactful diseases that takes the lives of people around the world. Over 1.3 million people died of tuberculosis in 2022, with over 10 million falling ill from tuberculosis.”

She also said the biggest impediment to access to vaccines is not disinformation, which was prevalent at the height of COVID-19, but the availability of such medicines in some areas.

“The COVID-19 pandemic poignantly showed that vaccine availability and access alone are not sufficient. There needs to be community, family and individual demand for vaccines so that people can get what is available to them.

“And over the past, as you well know, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a really impressive scaling of the amount of misinformation and frankly just overwhelming amounts of information, which we refer to as an ‘infodemic,'” she added.

She said some of that information was incorrect, either unintentionally incorrect or intentionally or misinformation.

“The primary reason people don’t get vaccinated, however, is not that.

“For many people, the hours clinics are open, the distances that have to be traveled, and potentially, the quality of the services are just insufficient for them to actually get the vaccines that are offered.”

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