Health Links All Species in the New York Bioscape
The link between health and the environment was first described in 440 BC in Hippocrates’s “Air, Water, Places,” in which he discussed the influence of climate, water supply, and sanitation on human health. The connections between disease and the environment became readily apparent to ancient civilizations when thousands of city dwellers died during outbreaks of smallpox, tuberculosis, and measles.
Great improvements in public health practices related to urban environments took place in many developed countries by the mid-twentieth century. However, in the last 25 years, environmental health concerns are accelerating, because the problems are more persistent and global in scope. Scientists and health practitioners are focusing their research on how disease transmission is linked to environmental degradation, health practices, and public health policies. Today’s urban areas and sprawling metropolises provide examples of the connections between the environment and health. For example, the incidence of cholera, hemorrhagic dengue, malaria, rabies, West Nile virus, and yellow fever have all increased in urban centers in recent years.
A growing number of ecologists, veterinarians, and public health physicians are focusing on unraveling the subtle, complex, and often overlooked interactions between health and human-induced environmental change, including the diseases of people, animals, and plants that are facilitated by urban sprawl and its collateral human activities. The new field of Conservation Medicine addresses many of these issues.
We believe that urban planning efforts and public policies would benefit greatly by integrating the lessons learned by ecologists working with health professionals, and the ecological health guidelines that these researchers are setting forth. It is clear that urbanization, and the inevitable degradation of the environment that ensues, disrupts ecosystem processes and ultimately threatens human health, and the well-being of all species of animals and plants.