UN links climate change to Zika, Ebola

UN links climate change to Zika, Ebola
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The United Nations is urging action on climate change as a way to prevent the spread of diseases like Ebola and the Zika virus. 

In a speech this week, the executive director of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) said officials should take a more aggressive stance toward climate change, highlighting studies that show nearly a quarter of premature deaths around the world can be attributed to environmental problems.  

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“The spread of Zika, just as with Ebola, has sent a strong signal to the international community that there is a need for increased attention to the linkages between environment and health,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said on Thursday. 

Zika, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, has infected dozens of people in the U.S. since spreading from Latin America. Scientists have long warned that climate change could lead to more diseases transmitted by insects as warmer weather allows them to breed faster and live longer. 

The disease has spurred a political battle over the best way to fight the spread of the disease. In the U.S., Republicans this week turned down an Obama administration request for $1.8 billion to combat the virus, saying the government should use leftover Ebola virus funding instead. The White House, in turn, rejected that idea Friday. 

But Steiner said officials should look beyond Zika and other diseases and work to combat the broader threat climate change poses to public health, saying it puts people at risk for issues like cancer and asthma, as well. 

“Every year, nearly 7 million people die because they are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution, from power generation, cookstoves, transportation, industrial furnaces, wildfires or other causes," Steiner said. 

We are eating into an ecological infrastructure that not only sustains us but protects us. The fallout from the footprint of human activity in the 21st century seems to grow every year."