Planning for climate change: The need for mechanistic systems-based approaches to study climate change impacts on diarrheal diseases


Jonathan E. Mellor, Karen Levy, Julie Zimmerman, Mark Elliott, Jamie Bartram, Elizabeth Carlton, Thomas Clasen, Rebecca Dillingham, Joseph Eisenberg, Richard Guerrant, Daniele Lantagne, James Mihelcic, Kara Nelson


Increased precipitation and temperature variability as well as extreme events related to climate change are predicted to affect the availability and quality of water globally. Already heavily burdened with diarrheal diseases due to poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, communities throughout the developing world lack the adaptive capacity to sufficiently respond to the additional adversity caused by climate change. Studies suggest that diarrhea rates are positively correlated with increased temperature, and show a complex relationship with precipitation. Although climate change will likely increase rates of diarrheal diseases on average, there is a poor mechanistic understanding of the underlying disease transmission processes and substantial uncertainty surrounding current estimates. This makes it difficult to recommend appropriate adaptation strategies. We review the relevant climate-related mechanisms behind transmission of diarrheal disease pathogens and argue that systems-based mechanistic approaches incorporating human, engineered and environmental components are urgently needed. We then review successful systems-based approaches used in other environmental health fields and detail one modeling framework to predict climate change impacts on diarrheal diseases and design adaptation strategies.


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