Turning the Tide: Africa Health Advocates Hail Groundbreaking WHA Resolution on Climate Change and Health

by Amref Health Africa

Nairobi, 31 May 2024: Amref Health Africa welcomes the adoption of a historic resolution on Climate Change and Health by the 194 Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) at the 77th World Health Assembly (WHA 77) in Geneva. This landmark decision marks a pivotal step in the global endeavour to protect communities from the diverse negative health impacts driven by climate change as well as calling the health sector to decarbonize.

The escalating climate crisis is a major driver of poor health outcomes, threatening to reverse five decades of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction while exacerbating existing health disparities both between and within populations. The associated health damage costs are estimated to range between US$ 2-4 billion annually by 2030. Regions with fragile health infrastructures, particularly in developing countries, will face the greatest challenges in coping without substantial assistance to bolster their preparedness and response capabilities.

“The movement to position health as ‘the human face of climate change’ has gained significant momentum with the adoption of this resolution, and I am profoundly optimistic about its transformative potential,” said Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO of Amref Health Africa and the COP28 Climate and Health Envoy for Africa. “This marks a pivotal moment where global leaders have formally acknowledged the urgent need to address the intertwined crises of environmental and public health with a unified, collaborative approach.”

“We owe immense gratitude to the World Health Organization, the COP28 Presidency, health ministers, partners, and advocates who made this achievement possible. We especially thank the countries that sponsored this resolution: Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Fiji, Georgia, Kenya, Moldova, Monaco, Netherlands (Kingdom of the), Panama, Peru, Philippines, Slovenia, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It has taken 28 Conferences of the Parties to centre human health in the climate crisis, a step that COP28 has successfully initiated. I am honoured to have served as the Climate and Health Envoy for COP28.”

“We look forward to continued progress at COP29 and COP30, and most importantly, to securing responsive financing to save lives and taking decisive action to reduce destructive carbon emissions,” he added.

Africa, with its diverse ecosystems and vast populations, is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, as evidenced by extreme weather events such as recent flooding in Kenya, Cyclone Freddy in Malawi, and widespread droughts across the continent. Fluctuating temperatures and changing precipitation patterns exacerbate health challenges like malnutrition, water-borne diseases, and vector-borne illnesses such as malaria. The resolution’s emphasis on climate-resilient health systems is crucial for Africa, prioritizing the protection of vulnerable populations and ensuring that low-income communities, indigenous groups, and those in high-risk areas receive tailored health interventions. This focus will significantly mitigate health disparities and promote equitable access to healthcare.

“One of the most profound benefits of this resolution is its call for enhanced data collection and research. A wealth of information from the Global South remains underrepresented, with only about 14% of research funding for climate and health being invested in Africa.  In many African countries, health systems are strained by limited resources and inadequate infrastructure. By investing in health surveillance systems that can accurately track climate-related health impacts, the resolution empowers governments and health organizations to develop early warning and response systems,” said Desta Lakew, the Amref Group Director for Partnerships and External Affairs.

“This data-driven approach is essential for crafting effective public health responses and adapting to the evolving threats posed by climate change. It will enable African nations to anticipate and respond to health emergencies with greater precision and efficacy,” she added.

The resolution fosters global cooperation, encouraging nations to share knowledge, build capacity, and exchange best practices. This collaborative spirit is vital for Africa, where regional partnerships can play a significant role in addressing cross-border health threats. By working together, African countries can pool resources, harmonize their health policies, and implement coordinated strategies that enhance resilience. This international solidarity benefits not just Africa but the entire world, strengthening the global health architecture and preparing us collectively for future climate-related health challenges.

Speaking at the sidelines of WHA77, Dr Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director for the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance hailed the adoption of the resolution and urged greater collaborative actions among the WHO, UNFCCC, and national ministries of environment and health, as demonstrated in COP28 and WHA77. “PACJA applauds the historic adoption of the WHA resolution, which will fortify the efforts of climate and health stakeholders by providing a clear roadmap for engagement at COP29 and future conferences. This resolution will guide countries in developing national action plans, particularly the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) due in 2025,” said Dr Mithika.

“Climate finance is crucial for implementing the resolution’s recommendations. Therefore, I call for an increase in the proportion of multilateral climate finance funding for health from the current 0.5% to 25%, to address major gaps in capacity building, research, and the development of climate-resilient health systems needed to tackle the additional disease burden linked to climate-sensitive illnesses.”

“Integrating climate action into national health policies and frameworks is another cornerstone of the resolution. This holistic approach ensures that health systems are proactive in addressing climate impacts. For Africa, this means creating sustainable health infrastructure that can withstand and adapt to environmental changes. Governments are called upon to allocate adequate resources for climate-related health initiatives, ensuring that health is included in national adaptation plans and NDCs. This integration will lead to more robust and resilient health systems capable of delivering consistent care, even amidst climate disruptions,” said Dr. Martin Muchangi, Director for Population Health and Environment at Amref.

“The passing of this resolution is a testament to the power of collective action and a unified vision for a healthier, more sustainable future. For Africa and indeed the world, this resolution is a beacon of hope. It provides a clear roadmap for mitigating the health impacts of climate change and building resilient communities,” remarked Martin.

As a leading public health voice in Africa, we are committed to leveraging this resolution to drive impactful change across the continent. We will work tirelessly to support governments, communities, and health organizations in implementing the resolution’s principles. By fostering resilience, promoting equity, and enhancing collaboration, we can safeguard the health of our populations and ensure a brighter, healthier future for all.

Amref Health Africa is honoured to have been part of this journey with the Wellcome Trust, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Global Fund, Gavi, Lancet Countdown, Global Climate Health Alliance, and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, among other stakeholders. This is a significant progress, but the work isn’t over. Together, we continue the fight to protect the most vulnerable from the overwhelming health burdens caused by climate change.

Notes to Editors

About Amref Health Africa

Amref Health Africa, headquartered in Kenya, is the largest African-based international health and development organisation, providing training and health services to over 20 million people annually in at least 30 countries in Africa. Amref Health Africa continues to evolve and innovate its approaches to increasing sustainable health access among communities.

Amref manages a full range of medical and public health programmes tackling the most critical health challenges facing the continent – including global health emergencies, communicable and non-communicable diseases, neglected tropical diseases, maternal and childcare, as well as water, sanitation and climate change. Much of our credibility with local communities and African governments stems from the relationship and trust we have built over the past 65 years. 

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