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Saswati Mukherjee B,TNN | Jan 9, 2014, 01.15 AM IST
BANGALORE: Young Mary from Bangalore was suffering from incessant bouts of cough. Soon, the episodes started getting longer. Mary, 3, was treated for her bouts for some time, before doctors could zero in on the cause: climate change.
Mary was a victim of diurnal temperature variation. The child was padded with woollens during cold mornings. As the day wore on, it would get hot but the woollens stayed, leaving her sweating. But during the night, the opposite would happen. Thinking that it wouldn't get too cold, the child would be taken off her woollens only to be exposed to dipping temperatures, said the doctor who didn't wish to be identified.
Rohit Kumar (name changed), from Domlur, used an inhaler twice a day. Rohit, 6, was taken by his parents to see Dr M Narayanan Namboodiri, an ayurvedic doctor, with complaints of severe allergy and mild breathing difficulty. The symptoms were a runny nose and sneezing.
"Pollution was one of the major contributing factors," said Dr Namboodiri. "He's much better after treatment and is on medication to improve his immune system. Exposure to the outside world cannot be stopped."
Manifestations of climate change, like diurnal temperature variation, prolonged winters, extremely hot summers, extended rainy season and cloudy skies adversely impact children's health, say experts.
"Climate variations make children vulnerable – it can lead to anything from prolonged bouts of cough to asthma," says MB Rajegowda, agro-meteorologist at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore.
'Save the Children', a recent study by Unicef, confirms that children are most vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change. "This, apart from bearing the burden of a future with a changed and potentially reduced quality of life," the study notes.
City doctors substantiate the increase in ailments among children. "There has been a jump in respiratory illnesses, and cases of asthma and allergy have particularly shot up. One cause for this upward swing in asthma cases is depletion of the ozone layer. Of late, we've been seeing a lot of unusual infectious diseases," says Dr Sujatha Ramesh, consultant paediatrician (allergy), Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Yeshwantpur.
Experts across disciplines share the opinion. "Extreme heat in the morning and cold at night is affecting children's health. Nasal allergy, cough, sneezing, runny nose and eye and throat irritation are the common symptoms. The age of vulnerability has dipped to two years. That's usually the time when kids come into contact with other children. Medication depends on the intensity of symptoms and family history," says Dr Sudha Kumar, homoeopathy physician at Soukya Holistic Health Centre.
* Study predicts that approximately 175 million children will be affected by climate change-induced natural disasters every year over next decade
* No. is up by 50 million during 10 years up to 2005
* Global warming studies suggest that disease-carrying vectors, like mosquitoes and flies, will find greater range of habitats, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions
Cause and effect
Recent studies by Australian scientists have hinted at a possible 2 degree Celsius rise in global average temperature by the end of the 21st century. That could be an underestimation. The actual rise in temperature could be as high as 4 degrees Celsius. The most vulnerable population will be children.
Leo F Saldanha | coordinator, environment support group
The quality of a child's environment is crucial in determining whether it'll survive the first year of life and shows physical and mental development. Given that children have incomplete physical, cognitive and physiological development, they are unable to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change.
Salathiel R Nalli | water, sanitation and hygiene officer (andhra pradesh and karnataka), unicef
With global warming, vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue are likely to spread to newer areas.
Pronab Dasgupta | director, the energy and resources institute, bangalore
First we give medicines to treat the condition. Then we follow it up with drugs to improve immunity. While the first takes anywhere between 3-4 weeks, improving immunity might take months.
Dr M Narayanan Namboodiri | senior ayurveda doctor