By Joyce Chimbi

A global climate change crisis is unfolding and the health of people and the planet is at risk. While 50,000 wild species meet the needs of billions of people worldwide, a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) shows that a million species of plants and animals face extinction.

Against this backdrop, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns of far-reaching consequences from climate change including an approximated 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress between 2030 and 2050.

The direct damage costs to health, that is excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation, are estimated to be between two to four billion dollars per year by 2030.

“If we are to address the emerging threats at the intersection of health and climate change, African countries must present a united front at global health and climate forums. We need to have one message for one Africa when we present our asks and demands at UNGA 78 and COP 28 because it is only then that we can influence the global policy changes required to meet the needs of the African people,” said Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana, Minister of Health, Rwanda.

Research is increasingly showing how climate change impacts human life as it increases infectious disease outbreaks and has been shown to exacerbate more than 200 infectious diseases and dozens of non-transmissible conditions such as preterm births and stillbirths.

Against this backdrop, from 5th to 8th March 2023, a host of thought leaders, policymakers, government representatives, development partners, private sector players, youth and civil society members gathered in Kigali, Rwanda to dialogue on the most pressing health challenges affecting our continent.

“We know that multilateral systems have not always delivered equitably for us, and the COVID-19 pandemic served as a poignant reminder of Africa’s ranking within the hierarchy of global health. While we acknowledge that African countries must also take responsibility for their role in underinvesting in their health systems, we must also recognize that Africa-led solutions to African challenges still require some level of global support because there can be no global health security if Africa continues to be left out,” said Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Acting Director, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

The spotlight on what ails Africa with a special focus on health systems and climate change was cast during the fifth edition of The African Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC), to create momentum around a united Africa in efforts to strengthen health systems and address climate-related health challenges.

Under the theme, “Resilient Health Systems for Africa: Re-envisioning the Future Now”, representatives from African States came together to advocate for a unified continental voice ahead of their participation at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78), and the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (cop 28) taking place in September and November respectively, later this year.

“For us to create lasting health change in Africa, we must build more equal partnerships and unite to drive a common African agenda on climate health. In doing so, we can address the emerging twin threats of climate crises and future pandemics in a more sustainable manner, including by strengthening primary health care and addressing the social determinants of health that are impacting the wellbeing of populations across the continent,” said Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa.

“These social determinants include education, economic opportunity, conflict and gender equality – all of which are central to Amref Health Africa’s mission to catalyze and drive people-centered health systems as outlined in our 2023-2030 corporate strategy, which we will unveil at AHAIC 2023.”

Jointly convened by Amref Health Africa, Ministry of Health Rwanda, Africa Union and Africa Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), AHAIC 2023 was one of its kind as it is the first global health conference held in Africa to focus on mainstreaming climate into health policymaking and vice versa.

Conference convenors stressed that the meeting would act as a springboard to global health and climate conferences, “where it will present an African-led global petition for urgent climate action and sustainable global health policies that will support Africa’s journey towards resilient health systems.”