Global Health Leaders Call on African Policymakers To Do More to Stop Climate Change 
WHO argues that climate-smart initiatives are good for health. But the health sector receives  less than 1% of international climate finance, said Prof. Guéladio Cissé, Coordinating Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Global health leaders have repeatedly called for stepped up investments  to  both slow down climate change and recognize the health co-benefits of more climate action.  

But political leaders, including those in low and middle-income countries, still need to do more, Prof. Guéladio Cissé, Coordinating Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told Health Policy Watch in a briefing on Thursday, World Health Day. 

Meanwhile, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, enjoined African governments to “prioritize human wellbeing in every strategy and decision,” including halting fossil fuel expansion that ultimately will boomerang on the countries concerned.  

“I’d like to take this opportunity to call on an African governments to prioritize human wellbeing in every strategy and decision to halt new fossil fuel exploration and subsidies, institute taxes for polluting firms and to implement the WHO air quality guidelines for example,” said Moeti, speaking on this year’s World Health Day theme, ‘Our Planet, Our Health.’

Added Cissé, countries that harness more of their own national and local policies, innovations and resources can make a difference. 

“Countries can go for some financial incentive policy at a national scale that includes taxes and subsidies; they can also have some innovative policies regarding insurance. They can also give some small scale financial products to low income and other households,” Cissé said.

Support to health sector less than 1% of international climate finance  

Experts are increasingly aware of the multi-faced impacts of the climate crisis on health – as well and the increased precarity of health in the face of deforestation and biodiversity loss as well as  unhealthy foods production – which are also driving climate change. 

So far, however, support to the health sector for climate action still comprises less than 1% of international climate finance investments, Cissé said, speaking at a WHO African Region World Health Day briefing. 

Health co-benefits of climate mitigation strategies – for instance fewer air pollution-related deaths from cleaner energy investments, also go uncounted in climate strategies. 

This, despite health being mentioned as a priority in 54% of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are the main instruments now being used for global climate pledges to reduce harmful emissions, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.   

Cissé who works with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute at the University of Basel in Switzerland, noted that this reflects the low priority still being given to climate change in the context of health.

World Health Day at a time of heightened conflict and fragility

Joint press conference in Washington DC with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Anthony Becerra (center) and WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (right)

This year’s World Health Day, which marks the April 7, 1948 date of WHO’s founding, comes at a time of both heightened political conflict and greater ecosystem fragility, noted WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He was speaking at a joint press conference in Washington DC with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Anthony Becerra.  

“The pandemic has highlighted the intimate links between the health of humans, animals and the environment. And yet, we’re rapidly making the planet on which all life depends and inhabitable… 

“The climate crisis is a health crisis,” Tedros said at the Thursday briefing, which concluded a series of face-to-face meetings this week with US Administration officials – the first since President Joe Biden’s inauguration last year.  

”Air pollution kills 7 million people every year. And 99% of the world’s population breathes unhealthy air mainly as a result of burning fossil fuels,” Tedros added. (see related story)

“Our warming world is facilitating the spread of mosquitoes and diseases they carry. Extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, land degradation, and water scarcity are displacing people and damaging their health,” Tedros said. 

“Systems that produce highly processed, unhealthy foods are driving a wave of obesity, increasing cancer and heart disease, and generating one-third of greenhouse gas emissions.

“As the world recovers from the pandemic we have a choice: we can go back to the way things were or we can change course. We can create societies, economies and products that nurture health and well being, and stop subsidizing those that destroy – because we cannot afford to pump carbon into the atmosphere at the same rate, and still breathe clean air.

“We cannot afford the same patterns of consumption and expect less diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. We must choose.  We cannot afford ever-deepening inequalities and expect continued prosperity. We must choose.” 

Half new fossil fuel exploration and subsidies, prioritize health, says WHO Regional Director

Water shortage in Ethiopia. Population exposure to heat is increasing due to climate change. Globally, extreme temperature events are observed to be increasing in their frequency, duration, and magnitude.

In Africa, one of the regions of the world that is worst affected by climate change, extreme weather events are having ever greater impacts on food security, water access, and related to that, nutrition and disease transmission. 

Of the more than 2000 public health events recorded in the African region between 2019 and 2020, more than half were climate-related, said Moeti, speaking from WHO’s Regional Office in Brazzaville. This, she said, represented a 25% increase compared with the previous decade.

“In Africa, diarrhoeal diseases are the third leading cause of death and illness in children younger than five, which could be preventable with safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and hygiene, and installation,” Moeti said. “Our analysis showed that waterborne diseases, mainly due to cholera outbreaks, accounted for 40% of climate-related health emergencies in the past 20 years.”

In urging African governments to adopt cleaner, healthier policies, she said the main motive is really self-preservation. 

“Älthough Africa contributes the least to global warming, the continent bears a disproportionate burden of the consequences,” said Moeti. “It’s up to every one of us to promote and support multi-sectoral interventions that address the threat of climate change, while helping to better prepare for future health shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Image Credits: Oxfam East Africa.

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