By Gift Briton
Ahead of the United Nations climate change conference (COP27) taking place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in November, over 250 health journals across the world have simultaneously published an editorial urging world leaders to deliver climate justice for Africa.
The editorial, which is authored by 16 editors of leading biomedical journals across Africa, including African Health Sciences, the African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine, and the East African Medical Journal, is simultaneously being published in 50 African journals and other leading international medical journals such as The BMJ, The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, the National Medical Journal of India, and the Medical Journal of Australia among others.
Prof. Lukoye Atwoli, Dean of Medical College East Africa and Associate Director of Brain and Mind Institute notes, “It is time the global community acknowledges that the climate crisis, while disproportionately affecting the continent, is a global crisis. Action must begin now, and begin where it is hurting most, in Africa. Failure to act will make the crisis everyone’s problem very soon.”
It is the first time so many journals are coming together to make the same call- reflecting the severity of the climate change emergency facing the world. According to the authors, despite Africa contributing the least to climate change, the continent has suffered disproportionately. Thus, they note that the damage to Africa should be of supreme concern to all nations, urging wealthy nations to step up support for Africa and vulnerable countries in addressing past, present and future impacts of climate change.
According to the editors, the climate crisis has had an impact on the environmental and social determinants of health across Africa, leading to devastating health effects. In West and Central Africa, for example, severe flooding resulted in mortality and forced migration from loss of shelter, cultivated land, and livestock, while extreme weather damages water and food supply, increasing food insecurity and malnutrition, which causes 1.7 million deaths annually in Africa.
Also, changes in vector ecology brought about by floods and damage to environmental hygiene have also led to an increase in malaria, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and other infectious diseases across sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Bob Mash, Editor of the African Journal of Primary Health Care and Family Medicine and President of the South African Academy of Family Physicians, Africa is already seeing the devastating effects of climate change on people’s health and the need to strengthen community-oriented primary health care is now necessary more than ever.
With estimates indicating that the climate crisis has destroyed a fifth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the countries most vulnerable to climate shocks, the authors urge that damage to Africa should be of utmost concern to all nations because, in an interconnected world, leaving countries to the mercy of environmental shocks creates instability that has severe consequences for all nations.
They argue that achieving the $100bn a year climate finance target is globally critical in order to forestall the systemic risks of leaving societies in crisis, adding that additional resources for loss and damage must also be introduced.
Although significant progress has been made including early warning systems and infrastructure to defend against extremes, the authors point out that frontline nations are not compensated for impacts from a crisis they did not cause.
This, according to them, is not only unfair, but also drives the spiral of global destabilization, as nations pour money into responding to disasters, but can no longer afford to pay for greater resilience or to reduce the root problem through emissions reductions.
“The climate crisis is a product of global inaction and comes at great cost not only to disproportionately impacted African countries but to the whole world. Africa is united with other frontline regions in urging wealthy nations to finally step up, if for no other reason than that the crises in Africa will sooner rather than later spread and engulf all corners of the globe. By this time, it may be too late to respond effectively. If so far they have failed to be persuaded by moral arguments, then hopefully their self-interest will now prevail,” the authors conclude.