… CLIMATE CHANGE IS THE BIGGEST GLOBAL HEALTH THREAT NOW
By Olawale Akinwumi
A new approach to climate change advocacy is here. A shift from impersonal discussions about greenhouse gas emissions and power plants to a very personal one: YOUR HEALTH.
It’s very easy to brush aside debates involving major international corporations, but who would not stop to think and perhaps do something about their own health, or the health of their children and loved ones?
This new way of talking about climate change is “Rebranding Climate Change as a Public Health Issue”. How climate change affects a person’s health is the new approach to the subject as we prepare for a successful COP23 in Bonn, Germany in November this year.
The Federal Government of Nigeria is set to implement its Memorandum of Understanding on Rebranding the impact of Climate Change on health as a Public Health Issue in Nigeria. The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Federal Ministry of Health and the consortium Africa Clean Energy Summit in 2015. The project is set to commence in November 2017, immediately after COP23.
The Federal Government is desirous of rebranding the impact of Climate Change on health as a Public Health Issue in Nigeria and the consortium has been mandated to come up with strategic programmes towards the implementation of interventions for rebranding the impact of climate change on health in Nigeria and the African continent.
While signing on behalf of the ministry, the former Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Linus Awute, explained that the Federal Government is collaborating with the consortium on strategic programmes towards the implementation of interventions for Rebranding the impact of Climate Change on health in Nigeria as a strategic pilot programme for winning the war against impacts of climate change in the African continent.
According to him, while the Federal Government is desirous of rebranding the impact of Climate Change on health as a Public Health Issue in Nigeria, the consortium is also willing to collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Health to create a funding and capacity development platform through a public private initiative.
Some of the expected deliverables from the joint efforts are National Roundtable on Health Care Workers, Nationwide Campaigns, Capacity Building, Seminars, workshops, trainings and National Conference, Clean Energy for powering clinics, hospitals, and storage of vaccines, water purification and use of Clean Cookstoves, Solar Water Heaters and many more.
In line with the Memorandum of Understanding, resources shall be mobilized from private sector organizations, international development partners and private businesses. The Director of Public Health in the Federal Ministry of Health will oversee the project, while the Climate Change Unit of the ministry shall be the project secretariat.
The Memorandum of Understanding was a follow up to an earlier ministerial approval for the Rebranding of the impact of Climate Change on health as a Public Health Issue in Nigeria. The Honorable Minister of Health (HMH) had graciously approved the project in September 2014.
CLIMATE CHANGE IS THE DEFINING ISSUE OF THE 21ST CENTURY
As suggested by experts, with warmth diseases surface. Climate greatly influences some of the deadliest and widespread diseases currently affecting millions of people across the world. With disease-bearing insects such as mosquitoes able to multiply in staggering numbers thanks to even small rises in temperature, global warming looks set to facilitate the spread of diseases like Malaria, West Nile virus and Dengue fever to parts of the planet usually untouched. The recent deadly heat wave that killed over 1,000 people within one week in India in May 2015 quickly comes to mind.
The increased number of sick people could even overwhelm public health services, especially in poor or unprepared countries. The Deadly Dozen is a group of 12 diseases that have been identified as those most likely to spread due to global warming. It includes Avian ‘Flu, Cholera, Plague, Ebola and Tuberculosis.
THE IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON HUMAN HEALTH IS, INDEED, ALARMING
Around the world, variations in climate are affecting, in profoundly adverse ways, the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. We are losing our capacity to sustain human life in good health.
Air pollution is the single greatest environmental health risk we face. In 2012 alone, exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants killed more than 7 million people one in eight deaths worldwide. Under-nutrition already accounts for 3 million deaths each year in the world’s poorest regions. Rising temperatures and more variable rainfall patterns are expected to reduce crop yields, further compromising food security.
Floods are increasing in frequency and intensity, creating breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects. Mosquito-borne diseases, like malaria, are particularly sensitive to changes in heat and humidity. What will happen if rising temperatures accelerate the lifecycle of the malaria parasite?
According to WHO estimates, climate change will cause an additional 250, 000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. Most will likely perish from malaria, diarrhea, heat exposure and under-nutrition.
Children and the elderly will be among the most vulnerable. Areas with weak health infrastructure will be least able to cope. Developing countries will be hardest hit. The health gaps we have been trying hard to close may grow even wider. We know that climate change mitigation can yield substantial and immediate health benefits. It is time now to translate knowledge into action.
Our planet is losing its capacity to sustain human life in good health. Very recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most disturbing report to date, with a strong focus on the consequences for health. That report also underscored specific health interventions that strengthen resilience to climate change and contribute to sustainable development.
As it noted, the most effective proactive adaptation strategies, for health involve measures, like immunization, maternal and child health services, and the provision of clean energy, water and adequate sanitation, that depend on well-functioning basic public health infrastructures. This is in harmony with the African Group in the negotiation process, which places high priority on Adaptation.
Many of the world’s most worrisome diseases have transmission cycles that are profoundly shaped by conditions of heat and humidity and patterns of rainfall. As one important example, malaria parasites and the mosquitoes that transmit them are highly sensitive to climate variability, which has been repeatedly linked to epidemics.