Climate change is catchy – But when will it really hurt?

N. A. Sweijd*, C. Y. Wright, A. Westwood, M. Rouault, W. A. Landman, M. L. MacKenzie, J. J.C. Nuttall, H. Mahomed, T. Cousins, K. Winter, F. Berhoozi, B. Kalule, P. Kruger, T. Govender, N. Minakawa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Concern and general awareness about the impacts of climate change in all sectors of the social-ecological-economic system is growing as a result of improved climate science products and information, as well as increased media coverage of the apparent manifestations of the phenomenon in our society. However, scales of climate variability and change, in space and time, are often confused and so attribution of impacts on various sectors, including the health sector, can be misunderstood and misrepresented. In this review, we assess the mechanistic links between climate and infectious diseases in particular, and consider how this relationship varies, and may vary according to different time scales, especially for aetiologically climate-linked diseases. While climate varies in the medium (inter-annual) time frame, this variability itself may be oscillating and/or trending on cyclical and long-term (climate change) scales because of regional and global scale climate phenomena such as the El-Niño southern oscillation coupled with global-warming drivers of climate change. As several studies have shown, quantifying and modelling these linkages and associations at appropriate time and space scales is both necessary and increasingly feasible with improved climate science products and better epidemiological data. The application of this approach is considered for South Africa, and the need for a more concerted effort in this regard is supported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1018-1023
Number of pages6
JournalSouth African Medical Journal
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Climate change
  • South Africa


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