Climate Change Threatens African Health Systems

By Mary Hearty

If adaptation and mitigation measures are not put in place, the current trend in global warming, could lead to additional burden on the already fragile African health systems, expert cautions.

This is according to  Dr Adugna Woyessa, Epidemiologist and Public Health Specialist at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, and Lead Author of Chapter 9 of the Working Group 2 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Speaking at a virtual webinar on the Climate Change and its implications for East Africa hosted by the Kenya Meteorological Department in partnership with the African Group of Negotiators Experts Support (AGNES), Dr. Woyessa pointed out that climate change is already having an impact on disease and the situation is expected to worsen.

In Malaraia, higher temperatures and shifting patterns of rainfall have influenced the distribution of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) which accounts for 90% of global cases, he said, adding that malaria vector hotspots and prevalence are projected to increase with rising temperatures.

Dr, Woyessa also noted that already high altitude areas in East Africa have reported dramatic cases of malaria owing to the increased temperatures. By 2050, if the temperature will be at 2 degrees Celsius, malaria transmission will immensely increase in East Africa especially in areas adjacent to highland areas.

Another cause of morbidity and mortality is expected in the acute diarrhoeal diseases  which are made up of diseases caused by bacteria and protozoan microorganisms, he said.

Africa is prone to diarrhoeal diseases especially highland areas experiencing sea temperature and extreme precipitation are convenient for transmission of these diseases like cholera incidence which has been shown to increase with temperature.

Dr Woyessa said East African countries are also nowadays facing high prevalence of cholera and they are almost becoming endemic.

Climate change is also projected to cause 20,000 to 30,000 additional diarrheal cases in children below 15 years by 2050, where the temperature is projected to reach 1.5 to 2.1degrees Celsius of  global warming.

In the case of malnutrition, he said there could be under-nutrition caused by food insecurity which will be caused by extreme climate conditions such as floods, increased heat waves, and drought.

Climate change is exacerbating the impact of food insecurity through shortage of water for the growth of crops and for feeding the livestock. Hence, more than 250 million Africans are under-nourished mostly in Central and East Africa which increases childhood stunting which affects their performance in education throughout their life.

The projected risk in malnutrition in Africa is high and by 2030, about 33 million Africans are anticipated to be malnourished; while 1.4 million additional children in Africa will suffer from severe stunting by 2050 under 2.1 degrees Celsius of global warming.

Dr Woyessa said East Africa is going to experience most of the malnourishment due to drought that is compromising the food production and rearing of animals.

To reduce these risks in East Africa as well as the whole of Africa, he recommended urgent implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures is needed to help minimize the projected mortalities and morbidities.

“We have seen some of them are already visible but they are conducted in a fragmented way. Africa still needs technological advancement and financial support to accelerate the implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures,” Dr. Woyessa said.

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