Post of the month 06/2021: Coral Salvador

About me:

My name is Coral Salvador, being PhD from the University of Vigo (UVIGO), a member of EPhysLab (Environmental Physics Laboratory) group. I received a predoctoral scholarship from UVIGO, and during my predoctoral stage, I was also integrated into the National School of Public Health at the Carlos III National Institute of Health in Madrid. My doctoral thesis was focused on the effect of drought on daily mortality in the Iberian Peninsula posing pioneering work in Europe. Particularly, for the first time in the Iberian Peninsula, a significant association between drought events and daily natural, circulatory, and respiratory causes of deaths was found. One of the five articles that constitute my doctoral thesis was awarded by Solco W. Tromp Foundation in the European Meteorological Society (EMS) Annual Meeting in 2018 (oral presentation).
My lines of interest are focus on the study of human health and climate change from an integrative point of view, including the analysis of the impact of extreme climatic events and environmental hazards such as droughts, extreme temperatures, wildfires, and the assessment of the risks and vulnerability among the population. I have collaborated (and collaborate) with different researchers of prestigious research centres such as Spanish National Research Council, National School Public Health in Madrid, University of Lisbon, CESAM in the University of Aveiro, University of Sao Paulo, University of Campinas or Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in the University of Bern. Currently, I have been awarded a postdoctoral Scholarship by the Xunta of Galicia, and I am going to perform a research stay at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM) at the University of Bern to study the influence of social and socioeconomic inequalities in the association between climate and environmental variables and specific aspects on health, specially in vulnerable groups of the population (children, pregnant women, the elderly). It should be noted that health impacts associated with climate change are often unequal and disproportionately affect the most susceptible populations. It is expected that climate change will interact and exacerbate existing social and socioeconomic inequalities aggravating health outcomes, especially in disadvantaged populations. Therefore, this kind of studies is required, especially considering both future projections of climate change, which indicate an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic phenomena in different parts of the world, as well as social projections, which indicates a fast population growth and ageing of the population.

See for more details about me and publications:

WEB DE EPHYSLAB: https://ephyslab.uvigo.es/coral-salvador/
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3036-0894

Contact:
EMAIL: csalvador@uvigo.es

ABOUT MY PRESENTATION TITLED “THE EFFECTS OF FIRES ON HEALTH IN THE IBERIAN PENINSULA RELATED TO DROUGHT EVENTS” (a summary)

The main objective of this presentation is to show a comprehensive research framework on the impacts of fires in vulnerable regions such as the Iberian Peninsula.

Climate change is widely considered one of the most pressing environmental challenge in the world. It is expected that the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events and environmental hazards related to the climate such as droughts, heatwaves, and forest fires increase in several regions of the world as a result of climate change, which could lead to higher far-reaching impacts on environmental, economic and social sectors, especially if a combination of these events occurs.

Evidence indicates that human health and human well-being are extremely vulnerable to climate variability. A recent report of Lancet begins with the following sentence “The WHO estimated that, in 2012, 12.6 million deaths (23% of all deaths worldwide) were attributable to modifiable environmental factors, many of which could be influenced by climate change or related to the driving forces of climate change”. These statistics verify that the study of the connection of climatic, environm­ental and health variables is fundamental for public health services, especially considering future projections of climate change, which will act as a multiplying factor of threats to health. Over the years there has been growing scientific evidence and interest in studies on climate change and health.

In the Iberian Peninsula, dry hazards (heatwaves, droughts, and forest fires) are considered of great relevance and interest. Moreover, due to its location, this region suffers from Sahara dust intrusions, which mainly occur during the warmer season in Mediterranean areas, threatening human health. It is expected an increase in the number of heatwaves and droughts in southern Europe and in consequence, forest fire severity and expansion are predicted to increase, possibly accelerating desertification.

This is relevant because wildfires have a significant impact not only on the environment and economy, but also on society, including public health. There is consistent evidence of an increased risk of death due to smoke from wildfires which contains numerous hazardous air pollutants of concern for public health (e.g. CO, NO, PM, etc). Notably, it has been estimated that 339,000 premature deaths per year worldwide are attributable to pollution from wildfire. Moreover, studies have revealed differences in the impact of PM originated from wildfires and urban PM on mortality, but further and conclusive studies are required. Moreover, smoke from wildfires has been associated with decreased lung function, increased risk of respiratory conditions and respiratory infections, however, in the case of circulatory effects there are inconsistent results (some studies reveal a significant association between wildfires and circulatory causes of death while in others evidence of significant association is not found). In addition, Wildfires can result in burn related injuries and higher hospital admissions.

Meanwhile, wildfires have been also associated with variables related to pregnancy, including premature mortality and low birth weights.

On the other hand, large forest fires cause forest and property destruction and severe economic loses, which can lead to traumatic experiences, and especially if they occur related to drought events can contribute to forced migrations and repercussions on mental health (e.g. depression, posttraumatic stress disorder). Finally, runoff derived from wildfires can flush out materials such as ash or woody debris contributing to reduced quality of water, threatening both aquatic and human life.

Although wildfires can occur without the presence of drought events, evidence indicates that drought episodes, especially if these are accompanied by high temperatures, are frequently associated with a higher risk of wildfires. It should be noted that compound and cascading events could lead to higher risks to human health than the occurrence of single phenomena due to changes in vulnerability or exposure degree of the population. However, there is a lack of consideration of examining the relationship between drought, heatwaves and wildfires and estimating the risks from an integrative point of view.

In this point, it is important conducting more comprehensive studies on the effects of wildfires on specific aspects of health, including long term effects, in vulnerable regions. Moreover, exploring the association between wildfires and other phenomena strongly associated with them, estimating, and comparing the health risks from an integrative point of view is necessary.

On the other hand, the risks of any hazard largely depend on the interrelation between the characteristics of the hazard, the degree of exposure, and the vulnerability of the phenomenon, the latter resulting from the susceptibility and adaptative capacity. Particularly, vulnerability is principally determined by social and socioeconomic factors. Conducting analysis to determine the most vulnerable groups of the population to the exposure of wildfires is also a challenging task because there is a limited number of studies that address this issue. Regarding age of the population both the elderly and children are described as vulnerable groups. On the other hand, the relationship between gender and vulnerability is complex. Moreover, population with low socioeconomic status has been described as a high-risk group. Studies focusing on the assessment the implication of social and socioeconomic conditions of the population as modificatory factors in the association between wildfires and health risks are essential. Therefore, it is necessary to control of social and socioeconomic variables of the population in the analysis as well as the elaboration of risk maps among different regions based on these conditions. This approach may serve as guidance to health systems and other relevant authorities to implement effective strategies for better management, obtaining better preparation and creating early responses to mitigate the damaging climate and environmental effects, reducing vulnerability and social inequalities, and ultimately strengthening the resilience of the population.

Considering that climate change causes or exacerbate a wide range of exposures with multiple health impacts, an integrated proactive action plan should be created, considering possible synergies of various exposures of climatic and environmental hazards strongly associated to provide higher population protection, following the proposal of Linares et al. (2020) (see DOI: 10.106/j.envres.2020.109623 for more details). This approach considers several indicators instead of one. For instance, in the case of drought forecast, heat events, wildfires and, in consequence, atmospheric pollution, can be increased, being strongly recommended to conduct an action plan that may provide solutions against the different phenomena, for example, proportioning higher access and availability in hospitals of cardiovascular, respiratory or infectious diseases, carrying out preventive and control measures against wildfires, reducing additional pollution sources from road traffic and industries, strengthen mental health care services. Moreover, this integrative action plan should be monitored and evaluated through epidemiological surveillance.

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