Reversing the deepening climate change driven health crises. The Amref Health Africa voice on the world leaders’ climate change summit 2021

by Amref Health Africa
Authors: Prof. Joachim Osur, Technical Director, Amref Health Africa and, 
Martin Muchangi, Program Director WASH, Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa approach to building community health resilience
1) Building local communities capacities to mitigate and implement resilience measures on climate change and heath.
2) Draw local and sustainable solution to prevent and address public health emergencies resulting from climate change
3) Mainstreaming gender and equitable involvement of women and youth in climate change and health adaptation measures.

Global temperatures have been on the increase as a result of global warming with major environmental, health and economic effects. Erratic weather leading to droughts, floods, heatwaves and other extreme episodes have increased in frequency. Such occurrences increasingly confirm the influence of climate change on the ecosystem and consequently the lives and livelihoods of populations. Climate change for example has been associated with altering the distribution of vector-borne diseases, physical & psychological trauma, respiratory illness, malnutrition, and non-communicable diseases where about 250 000 deaths happen. African countries have constantly borne the brunt of health consequences of climate change due to largely frail health systems. The direct health costs resulting from climate change effects is estimated to be US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030. This poses major threats to the universal health coverage agenda.

As world leaders convene for the Leaders’ Climate Summit, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November, governments should seize this opportunity to outline how their countries will contribute to a stronger climate change mitigation ambition. The message of the recently commemorated April 7 World Health Day advocating “Together for a fairer, healthier world,” should inspire the Leaders’ Climate Summit on 22-23 April and give attention to health and equity, beyond economic benefits – of stronger climate action. The World Health Organization has shown great leadership in addressing climate change and health by developing strategies and mobilizing governments and communities towards addressing climate change. The recent Lancet Countdown report provides a list of core trackable climate change and health linked indicators. It is the duty of the governments to ensure that the indicators are adopted within various sectors and have monitoring and tracking frameworks.

With the global trajectory on global warming completely off track, a pressing question remains: What is the role of the governments and stakeholders in reversal of the health crises resulting from climate change? Amref Health Africa joins in amplifying the voice on the need for urgent climate change actions. We believe that health is a basic human right and Africa and the global leadership must implement climate change mitigation actions if we are to attain lasting health change as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals. As active players in Universal Health Coverage, and members of the consortiums and task forces on climate change and health, we recommend a focus of resources and effort on;

1. Partnerships and whole-government approach:

African governments, through the Libreville Declaration on Health and Environment in Africa, committed to develop cohesive and integrated plans to address health and environment issues including implementing the framework for Public Health Adaptation to Climate Change. Two programmes were then established; The Pan African Programme for Public Health Adaptation to Climate Change and an Integrated Health and Environment Surveillance System. It is encouraging that many of the governments, including Kenya and South Africa, have developed their National Plans for joint Action between Health and Environment (NPJAs). The establishment of multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary task teams has advanced the national plans – as a new driving force for health and environment inter-sectoral action – at country level. They have provided fora for experts from different sectors to effectively engage in a technical and scientific dialogue, and to reach consensus on the status and importance of environmental risk factors that impact on health development as well as on ecosystems preservation.

Amref Health Africa is calling for expanding and deepening of partnerships among stakeholders to resolve the climate change challenges. It is our expectation that governments in Africa will drive climate change mitigation from a multi-sectoral and well-coordinated approach. We continue to partner with various stakeholders including governments, the Kenya Climate Change and Innovations Center (KCCIC) and others to advance the climate change and public health agenda. Our ambition is to ensure communities access and use quality health services without financial hardships by pursuing innovative climate and environmental health solutions to accelerate universal health goals. We continue to offer thought leadership in advancing UHC through dedicated participation in global platforms such UHC 2030, co-chaired by our Global CEO – Dr Githinji Gitahi.

2. Building Community health resilience;

Participatory community health resilience approach is the most sustainable way of ensuring that health is safeguarded at the local level. An integrated and multidisciplinary approach to reduce the adverse health effects of climate change requires at least three levels of action on the community resilience framework as summarized in the text box below.

Amref Health Africa’s work with communities is centered on increasing technical knowledge of communities, preparedness and capacities to adapt and mitigate climate change issues that have direct consequences on health. Our community engagement framework that supports gender equity is grounded on a well-crafted behavior centered communication where multiple actors rally to communicate and work together for improved public health outcomes. Our one health approach recognizes the need to address the animal, human and environmental health as a way of addressing community health for everyone everywhere in Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the need for strong community health systems in control outbreaks. The Africa Governments need to renew the effort of building strong community health systems that in future can be more resilient to the eminent climate change driven health systems shocks.

3. Mainstreaming gender in climate change and health response

There is strong evidence that health impacts of climate change disproportionately affect poorer populations, children, and women more than men in some situations. Climate change is therefore likely to widen the existing health inequities, both between and within populations. The ripple effects of this inequality cut across many developmental areas including education, health, social dignity among others. The overall outcome of gender insensitive interventions has been societal inequality leading to poverty and failed social system. This is a key driver to environmental degradation contributing to climate and thereafter failed public health. Amref Health Africa programming has women and children health at the centre. Our reproductive maternal and child health programmes address the underlying women health issues that could derail women and girls’ development.

Call to Action

We can’t have a sustainable future without having climate resilient and healthy societies. African leaders have an enormous role to play in the collective quest for global health by defining their climate actions, objectives, allocation of resources, mobilization of stakeholders and accountability. Climate change mitigation is a common good for health. We must own this and urgently be responsible as it’s a strong case for public health action towards achieving UHC. We call on all governments across the globe to act swiftly and decisively to enact the required laws that will preserve our continent and planet al large. Its time to change and think differently!

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