Addressing the health risk of climate change

Source(s): Climate Adaptation Platform
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The pressing health risk that climate change poses calls for countries to launch an adequate response. As governments prepare to protect the health of their people from the impacts of climate change, only a quarter of those countries surveyed by the World Health Organization (WHO) have been able to implement their national health and climate change strategies fully.

According to the findings of the 2021 WHO health and climate change global survey report, lack of funding is the reason.

The WHO sent the survey to the national health authorities, who in collaboration with other relevant ministries and stakeholders, provide updated information on critical areas, including leadership and governance, national vulnerability and adaptation assessments, emergency preparedness, disease surveillance, adaptation and resilience measures, climate and health finance, and mitigation in the health sector.

The WHO survey highlights how many countries are left unsupported and unprepared to deal with the health impacts of climate change. “We are here at COP 26 to urge the world to better support countries in need, and to ensure that together we do a better job of protecting people from the biggest threat to human health we face today,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health (Many countries are, 2021).

“Countries’ inability to protect health from climate change is most harmful to their most disadvantaged groups, including ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants and displaced people, older people and many women and children” (Many countries are, 2021).

According to the report, “The findings on key health and climate change indicators aim to empower policymakers to make informed decisions on the implementation of policies and plans; identify evidence gaps; and better understand the barriers to achieving adaptation and resilience priorities in the health sector while maximizing the health benefits of sector-wide climate mitigation efforts.”

Key findings of the report include:

  1. Approximately two-thirds of surveyed countries (67%) have conducted a climate change and health vulnerability, and adaptation assessment or are currently undertaking one.
  2. Over three-quarters of surveyed countries (77%) have developed or are currently developing national health and climate change plans or strategies. However, implementation is impeded by insufficient financing, human resource constraints, and limited research, evidence, technologies, and tools.
  3. About half of surveyed countries (52%) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had had a significant impact on their work to protect health from climate change, diverting health personnel and resources and slowing the implementation of protective measures. Just one-third of country respondents (33%) have taken the opportunity to include climate change and health considerations in their plans for recovery from COVID-19.
  4. There is progress in developing multisectoral collaboration on policies and programmes related to health and climate change from stakeholders or sectors addressing the environmental determinants of health and sectors focused on the structural and social determinants of health (education, urban planning, housing, transportation).
  5. Less than 40% of countries currently include weather and climate information for climate-sensitive diseases in their health surveillance systems.
  6. Only one-third of surveyed countries have climate-informed health early warning systems for heat-related illness (33%) or injury and mortality from extreme weather events (30%) despite strong evidence that these risks are increasing worldwide.
  7. The health workforce is increasingly informed and trained on the connection between climate change and health (some level of training conducted in 42% of countries), but further efforts are needed to ensure capacity-building covers a comprehensive set of relevant skills and is routinely integrated into health workforce development.
  8. A growing number of countries (27%) have conducted assessments of the climate resilience of their health care facilities.
  9. Only a small proportion of ministries of health in low-and lower-middle-income countries (28%) are currently receiving international funds to support climate change and health work. Access to international funds, including multilateral climate funds, needs to be substantially scaled up to reach the levels required to protect health from climate change
  10. Countries have significantly increased health considerations in their nationally determined contributions. Almost all (94%) of 142 new or updated nationally determined contributions published in 2020–2021 mention health, compared to 70% of 184 nationally determined contributions in 2019. The health benefits of climate mitigation are now referenced in 28% of new or updated nationally determined contributions, up from 10% in 2019.

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