By Sharon Atieno

Over 2.4m or a quarter of annual deaths in Africa are linked to avoidable environmental risk factors with the poor, women, children, disabled, displaced populations and the elderly hardest hit. However, most environmental ministries receive one percent of the national budget. Thus increasing environmental funding leads to improved healthcare.

Still UN Environment estimates that 10 percent of the disease burden in Africa is attributed to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene, with children being the hardest hit.

In a 2008 meeting in Libreville, Gabon, health and environmental ministers came up with the Libreville Declaration with 11 commitments that signatories had to adhere to. In 2013, when an assessment was carried out on the progress of countries in implementing the declaration, only Mozambique had achieved a balance in the national budget allocation.

Preserving our biodiversity is key to fighting most diseases. Overfishing in Lake Malawi represented by increased use of fine-mesh beach seines, for example, led to a decrease in the density of the snail-eating cichlids giving rise in multiplication of the schistosomiasis parasites and the related increase in bilharzia cases.

The 2013 Environment Outlook Report, says that habitat disturbance characterized by destruction of coral reefs through dynamite fishing, and the conversion of natural forests into arable land also create conditions that may favour breeding of various disease vectors. Deforestation raises sunlight, temperature and surface water availability, creating new breeding sites for malaria transmitting mosquitoes.

The report warns that other anthropogenic changes that alter forest ecosystems such as logging and road construction through forests can also bring people into closer contact with wildlife, increasing the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. These diseases include ebola and monkey pox.

In 2010, an African Inter-ministerial Conference on Health and Environment held in Luanda, Angola. The general objective of the conference being sustaining the political commitment made at the first interministerial conference held in Gabon.

Implementation of these declarations on health and environment are key in reducing the disease burden in Africa therefore, Heads of State have important role to play to ensure that budgetary allocations are favourable to both departments and also in funding multi-sectoral projects.

The third inter-ministerial conference will be held in Libreville to bring health and environment ministers to stalk take on milestones they have achieved since Libreville declaration.  Libreville will build on the progress of its predecessors in addressing the interlinkages between health and environment as a means of achieving sustainable development and the attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).