Integrating Climate Information into Surveillance Systems for Infectious Diseases: New Opportunities for Improved Public Health Outcomes in a Changing Climate

International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University


Many infectious diseases are climate-sensitive: climate acting as an important driver of spatial and seasonal patterns, year-to-year variations (including epidemics), and longer-term trends. Although climate is only one of the many drivers of infectious diseases, public health policy makers and practitioners are increasingly concerned about the potential impact of climate change on the health of populations. Noticeable changes in average climate are already being observed (and are therefore likely to affect the spatial distribution of some diseases, such as malaria). It is also expected that extreme events that can have devastating socioeconomic, environmental, and health impacts (e.g., floods, droughts, and heat waves) are more likely to occur.

The global health system is in a period of rapid change, with global health surveillance receiving increasing recognition as a primary source of protection from newly emerging and re-emerging threats: infectious diseases, new cycles of pandemics, bioterrorism, as well as climate change. Here we propose the incorporation of climate information into routine epidemiological surveillance systems for climate-sensitive diseases. To achieve this requires new and innovative mechanisms for strengthening observations, data management and sharing, development of relevant climate services, intersectoral collaboration, training and capacity building; all within an enabling policy environment. Our premise is that improved management of health risks associated with climate variability (such as the heat early warning systems recently established in Europe and North America) increases adaptive capacity of the public health sector to longer-term climate change. Specifically, we propose that the epidemiological surveillance community: (1) Establish collaborative partnerships with climate/environmental research and service communities to overcome policy and institutional barriers and identify opportunities for the effective use of climate information in health policy and decision-making; (2) Build the capacity of health professionals to understand, use and demand appropriate climate information/environmental information through creation of nested training opportunities in epidemiology and related professional training; (3) Support the research and development of appropriate evidence-based climate/environment products and services for use in health policy and decision-making; and (4) Support national and global investments in routine observation of climate, environmental and health phenomena pertinent to decision-making for climate-sensitive diseases.