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Published: 2021-10-20

Diplomacy needed for responsible development in the Arctic

NEWS A recent article on the importance of healthy ecosystems for human and animal health was published by CLINF, a Nordic centre of excellence for the study of climate effects on the epidemiology of infectious diseases, and the consequences for northern communities.

Text: Anngelica Kristoferqvist

The Arctic is an extreme environment, and nature and communities have adapted to cope with these extreme conditions, but climate change is a threat to the health of people and animals in the Arctic. In recent decades, the Arctic has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, and this warming is also reflected in the rapid loss of Arctic ice cover.

Climate change can cause infectious agents to shift their geographical boundaries, as warming causes certain species to move, and bring new diseases with them. Conversely, species adapted to the Arctic may face extinction as the climate changes. For example, higher temperatures may allow infected carriers to survive the winter, and changes in snow cover may affect hibernation.

It is likely that microorganisms, such as anthrax, will appear in ecosystems due to the thawing of human and animal burial sites in permafrost and glaciers in the Arctic. For example, microorganisms currently preserved in the frozen remains of mammoth fauna may come to the surface as the permafrost thaws. Bacteria, fungi, microalgae, yeasts, viruses, moss spores, seeds, and more have been found in permafrost. They can now return to the surface, enter the atmosphere and spread over great distances. In addition to climate change itself, human behavior and land use are also contributing.

CLINF

The Nordic Centre of Excellence CLINF investigates the effects of climate change on the epidemiology of northern infectious diseases and the associated societal impacts. CLINF manages a holistic approach to health called OneHealth that balances human and animal health with impacts on culture, economy and identity. By generating relevant data and developing a OneHealth early warning system for climate-sensitive infectious diseases at the local level, CLINF will use the new insights on climate impacts to create practical tools that policy makers can use to strengthen the resilience of northern regions.

Zoonoses are diseases that spread naturally between humans and animals. Many are climate-sensitive, and some are associated with the unique eating habits of indigenous peoples, such as eating raw meat from walrus and bear. These eating habits are crucial for food safety and other issues. The benefits are generally considered to outweigh the risks, but rapid climate change can quickly alter the distribution of infectious agents in Arctic wildlife.

As there is an urgent need in many parts of the Arctic for knowledge about the prevalence and consequences of zoonoses in humans, the authors propose diplomatic action. As different countries have different databases, it is difficult to make comparisons. In addition to building local capacity for food safety, veterinary diagnostics and human diagnostics, the authors suggest more coordinated knowledge to detect and mitigate old and new threats in the Arctic. International databases and forecasts should be developed, and diplomatic efforts are needed to establish a stable network for international cooperation.

It is proposed that such network will be able to share results quickly, strengthen the efforts of different nations and reinforce the rapid exchange of information for the benefit of a globally sustainable environment that benefits both human and animal health.

Arcum's Associated Researchers

Three of Arcum's associated researchers are co-authors. Read more about their Arctic focus below

Birgitta Evengård

Birgitta Evengård is professor and senior physician at the Department of Clinical Microbiology and head of the unit for Infecious diseases.

Climate change will have a profound and rapid impact on the human biome. As climate change occurs at the fastest speed and also with the highest impact in the North this perspective is a rewarding one to study. The human biome in the Norths includes the change in the flora and fauna, all transforming the pretexts for development of societies in the North. A holistic approach including collaboration with many scholars is necessary.

Lena Maria Nilsson

I work as a research coordinator at the Arctic Research Centre (60%), and at Várdduo, the Centre for Sami Research (20%) where I also work as Deputy Director.

I hold a PhD in public health (2012), with my thesis focusing on traditional Sami lifestyle factors as determinants of health. In autumn 2012 I was in involved in an Arctic food and water security project, initiated by the The Arctic Human Health Experts Group within the Arctic Council. So far, this project has resulted in one report, two book chapters, six journal papers and continuing research collaborations on food security in the Arctic. As of March 2020, my total scientific production included 67 peer reviewed papers, and eight book chapters. In 2016, I was the first 2016 laureate of the “Eva de la Gardie” Research Residency, a mobility program organized in collaboration between Institut Francais de Suède (IFS) and Institut Suédois in Paris in order to improve cooperation between France and Sweden. I am the secretary of the Nordic Society for Circumpolar Health, and a member of the steering group of Neon, the Nordic Nutrition Epidemiological Network. Based on my broad expertise, I am often invited to speak to both scientific and public audiences, including four key note lectures at large International conferences.

Anders Sjöstedt

Tularemia, a zoonotic disease caused by Francisella tularensis, has been endemic in certain areas of northern Sweden for almost a century and it has [...]

emerged in areas of middle Sweden during the past decades. In 2019, more than 1,000 individuals were diagnosed with tularemia in Sweden. The disease is especially prevalent in late summer and autumn.

We hypothesize that the predominant spread of F. tularensis in Sweden is through mosquitoes and that they acquire the bacteria in the water. In view of the specific association between outbreaks and meteorological and hydrological variables, it is very likely that future occurrences of tularemia will be affected by climate change and our preliminary predictions demonstrate that there will an increased incidence of tularemia in several areas of Sweden, in particular in the Arctic areas.

Tularemia is a significant health threat in endemic regions, but there are no methods to forecast an outbreak. Therefore, one of our aims is to develop at prognostic model, so health authorities could be alerted for an increased risk of an outbreak. We are specifically investigating putative risk factors in Norrbotten in order to improve the prognostic models. We are also investigating what the impact of future climate change will be.