Climate Change and Health – A Malaysian Perspective

When we are talking about environmental issues (rising sea level in Bangladesh, river pollution in India, destruction of coral reef in Australia etc., just to name a few), we tend to just shrug it off because they have nothing to do with us there is nothing we can do about it. However, when it comes to health issues, people will be sharing information and tips how to prevent getting cancers, heart diseases and the list goes on never-endingly. We are so enthusiastic in protecting our body from harms by seeking medical or nutritional consultancy, but somehow we left out the whole chunk of ice berg that directly determines our health – the environment. Although there is no statistical evidence in our country that proves that climate change is bad for our health (at least not yet), I have highlighted some health issues which might be worsen by climate change.

Health issues impacted by climate change

1) Water-borne diseases

Prolonged rainy season due to climate change can cause flooding at low-lying ground. Malaysia experienced the worse flood in Kelantan last year which hit the level of 34.17 metres. Besides its direct threat towards human’s safety, flooding causes the spread of water-borne diseases such as leptospirosis and typhoid as flood victims spend a lot of time being close to or in contact with the contaminated flood water (flood water can’t be clean as it brings out water from the drains as well as the sewage system).

The flood in Kelantan last year. Flood makes you more susceptible to be infected by bacteria carried by the water. (photo taken from The Malay Mail Online)


2) Respiratory diseases

On the other side of the extreme weather caused by climate change, it’s the prolonged drought. Forest fires that are ignited by the dry spell bring lots of haze into the human-populated areas. The ‘seasonal’ haze in Malaysia comes mostly during drought and becomes worse with the lack of rain during the long period of time that can clean the air by bringing down the particulate matter. Particulate matter suspended in the air will choke our respiratory system, triggering breathing difficulties and asthma especially.

A blurry scenery of Kuala Lumpur city. How much haze can we handle each year? (photo taken from Medicine Malaysia)


3) Heat stroke

Malaysia is a tropical country where hot weather is considered as a daily phenomenon and not much concern is placed in the danger of the heat. Temperature on Earth worldwide is predicted to continue rising (it is rising now), even though tropical countries experience less impact on this, eventually heatwave will become common here. There were deaths caused by heatstroke happening here so it is something that we should pay attention to.

The sun that is beating down might kill you before you knowing. (photo taken in 2012 in Selangor Matriculation College)


4) Mosquito-borne diseases

Dengue fever has been endemic in Malaysia despite of the effort done by the Ministry of Health. It will only get worse if the Earth’s temperature continues rising as a higher temperature facilitates mosquitoes and also virus activity, which in turn facilitates the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases especially Dengue fever. This year, the number of Dengue cases has reached the highest point in the Malaysia’s history with more than 40 000 cases in the first six months.

The infamous Aedes mosquito. There is no vaccine for Dengue fever yet and there are a total of four strands of virus. (photo taken from The Star Online)


5) Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP)

Warmer sea water creates a favourable environment for algae bloom. Normal algae bloom might seem harmless to human health (but it is fatal for aquatic life), however red tide is a different story. Certain species of plankton in red tide will secrete toxins that will be taken up by shellfish and in turn poison the people who consume the contaminated shellfish. Red tide can be found in Malaysia, even though cases of PSP are rare, with increasing frequency of red tide happening, the risk of having toxic plankton rises too.

Red tide spotted at South China Sea in 2012. (photo taken from The Star Online)


Studies published by United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH) have shown the relationship between climate change and health problems including cancers, cardiovascular diseases, neurological diseases, mental health and several more that are not covered in this article due to lack of data from Malaysia. For now, maybe we still don’t find that the effect of climate change very obvious yet, but it is always wise to prevent it from happening rather than trying to save ourselves when things already happen. Temperature is a critical element that can alter the environment and  also our body physiologically. We should look into the importance of climate change prevention to ensure that our health is guaranteed.


Read more here:

A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change – NIH

Climate Impacts on Human Health

Welcome to MESYM!
Connecting the green dots is a crowd-sourced platform and a living database for environmental movements in Malaysia. There are many good actions being done out there. Our goal is to bring them together. We connect the green dots.