I recently traveled to Piura, Peru to give a keynote lecture at the Peruvian National Academy of Medicine’s regional scientific conference. My talk, “Climate change and childhood diarrhea: implications for Peru”, focused on an aspect of climate change that may impact morbidity in Peru in the coming decades: the fact that higher temperatures have historically been associated with increased rates of diarrheal disease. Along with our collaborators at Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Emory University, and the Peruvian ministries of Health, Statistics/Informatics, and the Environment, we have been examining whether this temperature-diarrhea relationship also holds in Peru, and examining the implications and possible mitigation strategies for the various regions of the country under potential climate change scenarios.
Evidence of climate change affecting health and well-being was tangibly apparent in Piura, where extreme flooding led to several deaths and widespread destruction in early 2017. The roads and surroundings in Piura remain visibly changed since my last visit in 2016. Climate change can manifest in an increase of instances of extreme weather events, and may strengthen El Niño events, which is of particular concern to Peru. Such events can have multiple types of impacts on public health, as was the focus of several talks on the conference agenda . It was remarkable to me at the conference how many aspects of life can be affected by these changes. For example, Dr. Andrés G. Lescano reported on his work studying post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after the flooding in Piura, and also has ongoing research into the effects of El Niño on childhood stunting. It was an eye-opening trip in which the impacts of climate change were apparent to me not only in the scientific presentations, but in my conversations with colleagues who were impacted by the flooding, including one person who worked in the overwhelmed clinics during that time. This underscored to me the importance of continuing to examine the impact of climate change on human health, both mentally and physically, and working with those affected to explore possible mitigation strategies.