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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK


Global warming disease warning

The malaria-carrying mosquito could settle across Europe

BBC News' Margaret Gilmore reports
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says global warming could lead to a major increase in insect-borne diseases in Britain and Europe.

It has called for urgent government action to prepare for the spread of diseases like malaria and encephalitis.

The average temperature in Europe has increased by 0.8C during the past century and the average global temperature could rise by another 3.5C by the year 2100, as heat is trapped in the atmosphere by a build-up of gases such as carbon dioxide.

The BBC's Robert Pigott: "Measures taken so far are not said to be very effective"
This would be accompanied by changes in rainfall patterns, greater precipitation and humidity in the atmosphere, and many new areas of floodwater.

This in turn could lead to an increase in disease-carrying pests such as ticks, mosquitoes and rats, which live in warmer climates and whose breeding-grounds are often in damp areas.

Three countries in the European region covered by the WHO - Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkey - are already danger zones for mosquito-borne malaria.

The WHO says the disease is likely to spread to further areas within eastern Europe, and from there, possibly, to western areas.

If northern Europe becomes warmer, ticks - which carry encephalitis and lyme disease - and sandflies - which carry visceral leishmaniasis - are likely to move in.

Call for urgent action

WHO researchers, who include experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Public Health Laboratory Service in London, say few countries in Europe have assessed the impact of climate change on human health.

"There is an urgent need to consider how to improve research and monitoring and how to minimise adverse health impacts," they write in a report in the British Medical Journal.

They also called for improved co-ordination between European countries, to share information and research and plan efforts to combat the problem.

The publication of the report coincides with the third European Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in London, which is organised by the WHO.

Ministers from 51 member countries are expected to sign a protocol on water and health during the three-day conference. They are also expected to consider a charter on transport, environment and health to reduce air pollution from cars.

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