Amref Puts A Spotlight On Widening Climate Change Induced Health Inequalities in Africa

by Amref Health Africa

“As dire as the situation is, financing for climate adaptation is only a drop in the ocean of what is needed. This scenario has been, and continues to be the reason why Africa is one of the most vulnerable continent.”

As the world commemorates World Health Day, governments around the world are seized with addressing climate change challenges, with the World Health Organization (WHO) data estimating that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will likely cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone. WHO further states that the direct damage costs to health is estimated to be between US$ 2–4 billion per year by 2030.

While Africa is among the light polluters, responsible for less than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the continent is currently struggling to cope with the negative impacts of climate change. Available data by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that climate-related illnesses, premature deaths, malnutrition in all its forms, and threats to mental health and well-being are increasing.

It is unanimously agreed that human activities have caused so much damage to the ecosystems that support livelihoods and health. Climate change, due to increased greenhouse gases, has led to increased temperatures, triggering extreme weather conditions such as droughts, floods and hurricanes among others. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), these occurances have negatively affected the human environment in relation to air, food, water, shelter and social infrastructure, threatening our health and our very own existence as humans.

In an interview with HealthTimes ahead of the World Health Day celebrations, Amref Health Africa in Zambia Country Manager, Mrs. Viviane Sakanga, said climate change was rendering the attainment of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Africa an elusive dream.

Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to experience the negative impacts of climate change. The continent has already experienced, and continues to record widespread losses and damages due to human-caused climate change. These include increased loss of lives, reduced food production and economic output, and loss of biodiversity,” said Mrs Sakanga.

She added that the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that in East Africa, malaria has expanded into higher altitudes, while warmer temperatures are increasing infection rates.

The report also points out that rising temperatures as the main cause of spikes in cholera cases in East and Southern Africa, especially following tropical cyclones. The effects of climate change on the transmission of some vector-borne and waterborne diseases are influenced by human mobility, water management, and sanitation. Thus, frequent and intensified droughts and floods being experienced in most parts of Africa are driving infections to new heights.

“With tens of millions of Africans exposed to extreme heat, heat-related deaths are also on the increase. For instance, the report finds that in South Africa, about 43.8% of heat-related deaths from 1991 to 2018 were attributable to climate change.

“With notable climate change impacts on agriculture through droughts and floods, among others, it is without question the cascading effects that reduced food security has on nutrition—stunted growth, low body weight, hunger, and death in children. This has long-term effects on child development and educational achievements, and leads to negative pregnancy outcomes and micronutrient deficiencies through a lack of variation in diet.”

A worldwide study of 51 countries affected by the El Niño Southern Oscillation, most of which were in Africa, found that about 5.9 million additional children became underweight in 2015–2016. Africa is at risk of increased cases of Malaria, waterborne diseases, malnutrition/undernutrition diseases, and heat stress-related conditions.

Extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, are known to cause serious damage to infrastructure including healthcare structures, especially in rural and peri-urban areas. To date, there are documented cases of how floods/cyclones/hurricanes have washed away or submerged entire health posts in some affected communities.

“Equally, floods tend to damage other ancillary infrastructure at health centres, compromising water treatment efficiency, sewer and wastewater discharge systems and general sanitation facilities leading to disease outbreaks. Various reports in recent times indicate that the rate of temperature increase in Africa has accelerated in recent decades, with extreme weather events and climate hazards becoming more severe. Climate-related illnesses, premature deaths, malnutrition in all its forms, and threats to mental health and well-being are increasing,” she said.

The IPCC highlights that these impacts are often inter-connected, are unevenly distributed across and within societies, and will continue to be experienced inequitably due to differences in exposure and vulnerability. This remains the case for Africa where cascading and compounding risks affecting health due to extreme weather events are even higher due to the continent’s limited capacity to cope.

“As dire as the situation is, financing for climate adaptation is only a drop in the ocean of what is needed. This scenario has been, and continues to be the reason why Africa is one of the most vulnerable continent. With increased disease burden due to climate change, most African governments are stretched for resources, with some of them forced to divert resources from critical health care services to avert climate change disasters and climate-induced calamities.”

According to the African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change (AGN), some countries on the continent are already spending as much as 9 per cent of their Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) on climate adaptation support.

“Similarly, available data indicates that climate change uniquely impacts the health of women and girls in marginalised communities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, worsening climatic changes have a negative impact on gender inequalities, widening the gender gap mediated through socio-economic, cultural, and physiologic factors.”

Meanwhile, several African countries are investing in climate-resilient health systems. For example, some countries are investing in renewable energy such as solar for health centres, capacity building for communities and health workers and strengthening innovative climate-related early warning, surveillance and preparedness systems.

“In recognition of the urgent need to take action, the international community has to continue calling for deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation). They must commit to strengthen the development and means of implementation support (climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building) policies that maximize the health gains from mitigation and adaptation actions and prevent worsening health impacts from climate change, including through close partnerships with indigenous peoples, local communities, women and girls, children and youth, healthcare workers and practitioners, persons with disabilities and the populations most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, among others,” added Mrs. Sakanga.

She also said stakeholders must continue to work towards incorporating health considerations in the context of relevant Paris Agreement and UNFCCC processes, with a view to minimizing adverse effects on public health, and mainstreaming climate considerations in global health work programmes.

Amref Health Africa is implementing a strategic, integrated approach to combat climate-induced health challenges. Amref is targeting infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, undernutrition, and gender disparities, emphasizing on resilient Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) infrastructure.

“Central to our strategy is championing equality and non-discrimination to enhance inclusive/equitable health outcomes through; empowering communities to prepare for, adapt and withstand climate crises; fortifying leadership and governance for climate-resilient health systems; and championing a multisectoral, integrated one-health approach.”

By galvanizing collective action with stakeholders on climate and health, Amref aims to drive more investments, bolster coordination, and propel evidence-based interventions. This will amplify our efforts in climate change mitigation and adaptation, ultimately fostering enduring health advancements.

Author: Michael Gwarisa

Article first published on Amref Puts A Spotlight On Widening Climate Change Induced Health Inequalities in Africa – HealthTimes

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