Health experts at a conference in Kuala Lumpur say climate change is causing an increase in disease in Asia. They warn the situation is likely to get worse and urge governments to be prepared. Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization estimates that climate change directly or indirectly contributes to almost 80,000 deaths in the region every year. Higher temperatures and increased rainfall have, for example, affected breeding conditions for mosquitoes, contributing to a rise in dengue fever and malaria.

Hisashi Ogawa, WHO's regional adviser in environmental health, says malaria can now even be found in high altitude areas that previously had been free of it.

"This year, I think early this year we had 40 malaria deaths in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea and they never experienced malaria in the past. We believe this is linked to global warming."

Ogawa is one of 60 regional health, environmental and climate experts who are meeting in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur this week to discuss the health threats caused by global warming.

Delegates heard that in some areas, climate change has already resulted in an increase in typhoons and floods. In Bangladesh, for example, waterborne diseases such as diarrhea are more prevalent. Other regions are experiencing severe droughts that lower crop yields, raising worries about malnutrition. Dust storms can contribute to respiratory illnesses.

Ogawa says policy makers in the region need to act quickly. First, they need to understand the link between global warming and health issues and combat greenhouse gas emissions. He also urges governments to be better prepared for an increase in diseases linked to climate change.

"We need to strengthen health system, public health surveillance and response for instance, so that we are prepared to respond to potential outbreaks of dengue, or outbreaks of diarrhea disease, cholera or whatever in the future - and we believe that those are related to global warming," Ogawa said.

The key findings of this week's workshop will be presented to Asian ministers of health and environment who will meet in Bangkok next month to further discuss the problem.