By Sharon Atieno
Unless action is taken to include health in climate change discussions, the African continent will continue to suffer from increased cases of climate-related diseases including malaria, dengue and cholera.
According to Wadzanayi Muchenje, Director Regional Health Initiatives at The Rockefeller Foundation, health is the human face of the climate crisis and while evidence of the link between climate and health in Africa has largely been anecdotal, the current outbreaks of infectious diseases in the continent can be linked with the continuous change in weather patterns.
“Weather incidents are combining with infectious diseases and amplifying them in ways that we have never seen before in the past,” she said during a Rockefeller Foundation media briefing in Nairobi.
Additionally, Muchenje noted that with increased climate stressors such as floods and droughts especially in rural areas, in-country urban migration is increasing.
“As urban population growth outpaces available water and sanitation (WASH) infrastructure, the ensuing result is a continual cycle of infectious disease outbreaks, like cholera ,” she explained.
“Similarly and as a function of urban migration, new lifestyle and dietary habits are adopted as people access inexpensive, refined and processed foods. The result is the current uptick in non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and others.”
With the innaugural Africa climate Climate Summit scheduled to start on September 4th, she noted that health experts are going to be pushing for African Ministries of Health to adopt tools such as Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessments(VAAs) that document the challenges of the climate and health nexus and identify existing assets that can help build resilience to climate change.
According to Muchenje, this will entail governments finding out the health threats in terms of which diseases are becoming rampant, how much it will cost to address the challenge and what is needed to address it. Once the VAAs are done, they will be translated to health adaptation plans.
Muchenje adds that the climate and health nexus has been absent in global discourse and this summit presents an opportunity to amplify the issue.
Furthermore, only 0.5% of climate adaption financing has been directed towards health programs so this summit presents an opportune moment to call for greater investment in amplify this issue whilst calling for investment in the space.
Experts will also be pushing to identify solutions to address some of these challenges including waste water sampling for disease surveillance and training and supporting of community health volunteers as part of robust health systems strengthening approach in the face of the climate crisis.
In a previous high-level meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi dubbed In pursuit of a unified African position on health in climate change, health experts noted that climate change has worsened the pre-existing public health inequalities and will most likely affect the attainment of the 2030 sustainable development agenda.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that climate change will account for 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. As of 21st -27th August, the WHO Afro region was experiencing 122 disease outbreaks including cholera, diphtheria and monkey pox.