Climate change and the right to health of people with disabilities

Elsevier, The Lancet Global Health, Volume 10, January 2022
Authors: 
Stein P.J.S., Stein M.A.

Climate change is directly and disproportionately threatening the right to health of people with disabilities due to higher ambient temperatures, elevated air pollutants, and increasing exposure to extreme weather events that include heatwaves, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Strikingly, the global mortality rate of people with disabilities in natural disasters is up to four times higher than people without disabilities due to a scarcity of inclusive planning, accessible information, early warning systems, transportation, and discriminatory attitudes within institutions and among individuals.1 Disasters also disrupt access to health-care services, medications, oxygen, haemodialysis, personal care assistance, and medical devices. Heat extremes are linked with elevated emergency room visits, hospital admittance, and mortality for individuals with mental health, cardiorespiratory, and other disabilities; pre-existing psychosocial disabilities triples the risk of death during heatwaves.2 High ambient temperatures also negatively affect the health of individuals whose disabilities are affected by temperature sensitivity or thermoregulation, including multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Likewise, numerous medications, including diuretics and antidepressants, can affect the thermoregulation of people with mental and physical disabilities.3 More broadly, climate change increases the risk of undernutrition, water insecurity, stress-related psychiatric disorders, and alters the geographical distribution of infectious diseases.