Assessing Health Vulnerability to Climate Change: A Guide for Health Departments

The changing climate is linked to increases in a wide range of non-communicable and infectious diseases. There are complex ways in which climatic factors (like temperature, humidity, precipitation, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise) can directly or indirectly affect the prevalence of disease. Identification of communities and places vulnerable to these changes can help health departments assess and prevent associated adverse health impacts.  The Climate and Health Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed the Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework to help health departments prepare for and respond to climate change . The BRACE framework is a five-step process that helps health departments to understand how climate has and will affect human health, and enables health departments to employ a systematic, evidence-based process to customize their response to local circumstances. The first step of the BRACE framework focuses on anticipating climate impacts and assessing associated health vulnerabilities. This document provides a suggested sequence of steps that health departments can undertake to assess such health vulnerabilities associated with climate change:

1) Determine the scope of the climate vulnerability assessment
a. Identify the area of interest and the projected change in climate exposures at the smallest possible spatial scale.
b. Identify the health outcome(s) associated with these climate exposures.
2) For these health outcomes, identify the known risk factors (e.g., socioeconomic factors, environmental factors, infrastructure, pre-existing health conditions).
3) Acquire information on health outcomes and associated risk factors at the smallest possible administrative unit (e.g., census block group, census tract, county) in accordance with data privacy regulations and availability.
4) Assess adaptive capacity in terms of the system’s (e.g., communities, institutions, public services) ability to reduce hazardous exposure and cope with the health consequences resulting from the exposure.
5) Combine this information in a Geographic Information System (GIS) to identify communities and places that are vulnerable to disease or injury linked to the climate-related exposure.

The value of a vulnerability assessment is that it allows health departments to understand the people and places in their jurisdiction that are more susceptible to adverse health impacts associated with the climate-related exposures modified by climate change. This assessment of people and place vulnerability can then be used to implement more targeted public health action to reduce harm to people.

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Additional Authors

Christopher K. Uejio
Department of Geography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA

Shubhayu Saha
Climate and Health Program, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects (DEHHE), National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Atlanta, GA, USA

Paul J. Schramm
Climate and Health Program, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects (DEHHE), National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Atlanta, GA, USA

Gino D. Marinucci
Climate and Health Program, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects (DEHHE), National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Atlanta, GA, USA

Jeremy J. Hess
Climate and Health Program, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects (DEHHE), National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Atlanta, GA, USA
Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA
Department of Environmental Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

George Luber
Climate and Health Program, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects (DEHHE), National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Atlanta, GA, USA

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