#AskProfAgnes: Health Experts define Climate Change impacts on Health
By DUSABEMUNGU Ange de la Victoire
While different countries continue to look at the effects of climate change in the mirror of Environment, health experts have shown that climate change continues to be at the forefront of contributing to deaths from various diseases and climate-related epidemics.
This was noted on Wednesday, April 27, 2022 in a talk entitled ASK PROF AGNES BINAGWAHO during which various health experts and climate change experts shared their thoughts on the current Health Challenges vis a vis the Climate Change impacts.
Opening the conversation, Prof. Agnes Binagwaho, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity Rwanda said that “Climate change affects everyone without regard to their race, gender, or nationality, so as global citizens this should concern us all and it is important that the health sector takes lead in responding.”
She added that “Of course, the vulnerable are more affected than the wealthy. So as global citizens this should concern each and every one of us.”
According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050, Climate change is expected to be the cause of 250,000 additional deaths per year, including 95,000 deaths from childhood malnutrition, 60,000, from malaria 48,000 from Diarrhoea and 28,000 from climate threats in elderly People.
Prof. Binagwaho noted that “The financial expense for damage is also estimated to be very costly between more than 2 billion and 4 billion by the year 2020. And of course, the poor country will pay the cost more, even if they contribute less to the problem.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had concluded that to prevent millions of climate change related deaths, the global temperature of the world had to be limited to 1.5.
“However, in 2019, the report indicates that most likely, the world is going to exceed that and it was estimated that we may reach 3.2 degrees by 2,100.” Prof. Binagwaho explains.
She added that in 2021, the Climate Change report proved this point, and was quite devastating for many parts of the world, with many disasters occurring in Europe, in Asia, in Africa… “With an amplitude not seen before.” Noted Prof. Binagwaho
She continued saying that “The impact of climate change has been enormous. For instance, on the African continent, we had 195% more Africans affected by extreme weather. Even if we compare that to the year before.”
“So, another example is the increase of hurricanes. We have seen in Africa, what happened in Mozambique, up to Malawi and recently in South Africa, and the other continent is the same. It is important to note that the increase in temperature is highly due to an increase of greenhouse emission that are largely contributed by the G 20 countries that emit more than 80% of all greenhouse emission compared to continents like ours in Africa that emit only less than 5% but still face global warming effects.” She said
“And the correction to that it’s hard to our continent to slow down our development just because the rich country has misbehaved knowingly for years and are still doing it….So, when discussing climate change, it is important also to consider the inequities, the social determinants of health because socio economic inequities exposed more vulnerable to threats.” Prof. Binagwaho added.
With reference to WHO, Prof. Binagwaho reminded us that Health crisis is expected to undo the 50 years progress that we have made.
Speaking at the conversation, Dr. Tarun Weeramanthri, President of Public Health Association of Australia, revealed that in 2019, and 2020, he conducted a yearlong inquiry into the impact of climate change on health in Western Australia for the state government.
He said that the findings showed that the health impacts are real, and the public are convinced as they have lived through it all.
Dr. Tarun said “The increased risk of these extreme weather events is climate change related” while at the same time causing the physical and mental health effects, direct and indirect.
“There is no doubt that such COVID 19 has drawn attention away from climate action in the short term. But though there was a temporary reduction in emissions in 2020, that has now reversed and the trend line upwards has resumed.” He said.
“We’ve also seen the response divide in countries, particularly on the basis of income, privilege and development, but also open up divides within countries on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.” Dr. Tarun added.
According to Mr. Ramon San Pascal, Executive Director of Health Care without Harm, “Despite the economic growth in our region in Southeast Asia, there is still this issue of reaching the unreached people and communities still afflicted by infectious diseases and higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. Now, even during the time of the pandemic, the impact of adverse and extreme climate events has continued to devastate vulnerable population and so doing it also the Climate change also disrupt the delivery of healthcare services thus, there is a need to improve the resilience of healthcare facilities such that it will enable hospitals and health systems to continue to provide essential services even during calamities such as strong typhoons and other climate driven disasters.”
On the other hand, Mr. Ramon added that “we also acknowledge that hospitals, healthcare facilities, the sector itself contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions in a big way to energy consumption, transportation, products that are manufactured, utilization and disposal are what we would later on call as the healthcare waste.”
He explained that “In the time of the pandemic, one huge environmental impact created and brought another crisis is the sudden surge of COVID related waste.”
“This is not only in Southeast Asia, but much more because even before the pandemic Southeast Asia is already considered as among the top countries that contribute to global plastic pollution and hospitals are also part of it,”
As explained by Michael Jenkins, Founder and CEO of Forest Trends Association that works on nature-based solutions to combat climate “As we have seen again and again, recently this last week, and in the devastation in Durban in South Africa, water is at the intersection of climate change and health. Climate change is water. Too much too little. Water is essential. For health, we know the access to clean water is critical for avoiding waterborne diseases. We know access to water is critical for sanitation and hygiene. We know water is critical for food production, access to adequate food and nutrition as a basis for health.”
Speaking on the preparedness of the health system to the threats caused by climate change and how Rwanda is tackling this issue, Dr. Corneille Ntihabose, Head of Clinical and Public Health Services Department in Rwanda’ s Ministry of Health, firstly explained that according to UN Climate Change report 2020, Africa is facing increasing temperatures and sea levels.
“We are seeing some changes in precipitation patterns and also more extreme weather threatening human health and safety.” He said, adding that “It is estimated that between 2013 and 2050 additional 250,000 deaths will occur each year because climate change is having an impact on Health.”
Dr. Ntihabose explained that “The climate change, we know that can reverse, slow down and undermine the Heath performance we have achieved if no concrete adaptation measures are made.”
He said that “in Rwanda we have achieved a lot in maternal mortality reduction, child mortality reduction, improving the fertility, improving also the data on family planning, the coverage of community based health insurances, service utilization, but if we do nothing to reverse this climate change impacts, the climate change will continue to have impacts on those achievement or those performance”
Therefore, he adds, “we must do everything because this is primarily for nearly all morbidity and mortality causes in Rwanda.
“Some best practices we can share, we started with the policies which will be adopted in 2019. The policy on Environment and Climate Change has some strategic directions where the government is positioning itself in environment and climate change, what actions can be done and this policy is accompanied by strategic plan, which underline the activities you can conduct by increasing awareness and some interventions that can be done on the ground in order to curb the impacts of climate change on many sectors including ours in health.” He said.
The Ask Prof Binagwaho conversation was aimed at understanding the severity of the effects of climate change on Health and on looking together at what can be done to minimize the potential impacts.
Participants agreed that everyone in their respective levels should be involved in programs aimed at addressing these issues because in addition to taking human lives, these impacts of Climate change are detrimental to the overall development and future of the world in which we live.