WHO Launches Initiative to Tackle Climate-Related Health Impacts in Africa

By Joyce Ojanji

In order to tackle the health impacts of climate change, World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with Ministries of Health in Africa, have launched a regional initiative to enhance the power of collaboration among countries and shareholders through experience sharing and collective action in climate adaptation and mitigation.

The initiative was formalized during an inter –ministerial dialogue jointly convened by the WHO Regional Office for Africa and Africa Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) Health Africa at the 76th World Health Assembly(WHA) in Switzerland.

 It also seeks to strengthen the voice of health and well-being in Africa at the Conference of the Parties (COPs) and in other global forums on climate action and negotiation.

 In line with COP26 health commitments, the initiative will support member states in meeting their targets by initiating and reinforcing their legal, institutional and operational framework for multi-sectoral work to tackle the complexity of climate-related health challenges.

The 76th WHA dialogue comes against the backdrop of increasing climate-linked emergencies, with more than 100 health emergencies occurring in the African Region every year.

Of the 2,121 public health events recorded in the region between 2001 and 2021, more than half were climate-related.

Moreover, natural disasters with devastating consequences have been on the rise, accounting for 70% of all the disasters that occurred between 2017 and 2021. Of recent memory, cyclone Freddy in southern Africa killed at least 676 people and displaced thousands in Malawi.  

“The consequences of climate change have a direct effect on our health and well-being, with our region suffering some of its worst impacts. The initiative launched today lays a strong foundation for building resilient health systems that can continue providing essential services even as they deal with the devastation of floods, drought, environmental degradation, disease outbreaks and other impacts of climate change,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The Group CEO- AMREF Health Africa, Dr Githinji Gitahi, pointed out that not many governments in Africa have paid attention to the increasing danger of climate change on health with only less than 20% of the countries having health mentioned in their nationally determined contributions.

“Through this initiative, we seek to work with the governments and support them to understand the impact of climate change on health through evidence so that we can inform the nationally determined contributions and national planning to better protect health systems against threats of climate change,” he added.

The health ministers expressed their commitment to working together with WHO Afro and AMREF to strengthen and advance progress through the multi-sectoral collaboration and coordination to enhance the implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures aimed at reducing the climate-related health risks.

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