50% of health emergencies in Africa caused by climate change – experts

Experts at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) 2023 say that the biggest challenge to Africa’s health is going to be the climate crisis.

This is why stakeholders in health, development and climate who have convened in Kigali, Rwanda, for the bi-annual conference that will go on for the next four days, say that their top agenda will be the urgent need for African countries to unite in their efforts to strengthen health systems and address climate-related health challenges.

Speaking to the Nation while flagging off delegates participating in ‘wogging’ ( walking and jogging), Amref Health Africa Chief Executive Officer Gitahi Githinji reminded that the bi-annual conference is focused on health systems.

“ We have come together with the government of Rwanda, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Africa CDC, the reason this conference is very special is that it comes at a very unique time,” the CEO explained while highlighting other extreme weather events like flooding that bring about sanitation breakdowns that result to a rise in cholera cases on the continent.

“It is the mid-term to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) agenda of 2030 at a time when the world is facing significant frictions one of them being Covid-19 and the rising outbreaks everywhere.”

He added that the danger of the climate crisis is because of global warming and greenhouse gases which is why Africa is experiencing outbreaks of increasing famine, and drought.

Dr Adelheid Onyango, the director of the universal health coverage / healthier populations at the WHO African region office while agreeing with Dr Githinji told the Nation that the climate crisis is now a threat more than ever before.

“What we are witnessing is that the continent is at a rapid escalation of the number of climate-health-related events. In the past two decades, we have seen an increase and according to our numbers today, 50 percent of health emergencies in Africa are related to climate change and there has been an increase in the last two decades of about 25 percent,” he said.

According to the Geneva Environment Network, today, humanity is facing a triple planetary crisis: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution.

These intertwined challenges are threatening the well-being and survival of millions of people around the world and jeopardizing SDGs.

Experts observe that addressing the triple planetary crisis requires collaborative action from all side of society to restore harmony with nature and foster a transition to sustainable socio-economic systems.

This is why this year’s AHAIC conference has been themed “Resilient Health Systems for Africa: Re-envisioning the Future Now” and will bring together representatives from African States to advocate for a unified continental voice ahead of their participation at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78) and the 28th session of the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP 28) taking place in September and November this year.

“If we are to address the emerging threats at the intersection of health and climate change, African countries must present a united front at global health and climate forums. We need to have one message for one Africa when we present our asks and demands at UNGA 78 and COP 28 because it is only then that we can influence the global policy changes required to meet the needs of the African people,” Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, Minister of Health, Rwanda said.

According to Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Acting Director, Africa CDC, Africa shares part of the blame in the challenges she grapples with within her own healthcare systems.

“We know that multilateral systems have not always delivered equitably for us, and the COVID-19 pandemic served as a poignant reminder of Africa’s ranking within the hierarchy of global health.

While we acknowledge that African countries must also take responsibility for their role in underinvesting in their health systems, we must also recognise that African-led solutions to African challenges still require some level of global support because there can be no global health security if Africa continues to be left out,” said Over the four days, policymakers, technocrats, thought leaders, innovators, researchers, and civil society will explore how African countries can foster regional cooperation by creating common guidelines, governance structures and regulatory procedures to harmonise health systems and climate adaptation and mitigation measures across the continent.

Dr Githinji presents another solution.

“For us to create lasting health change in Africa, we must build more equal partnerships and unite to drive a common African agenda on climate and health. In doing so, we can address the emerging twin threats of climate crises and future pandemics in a more sustainable manner, including by strengthening primary health care and addressing the social determinants of health that are impacting the wellbeing of populations across the continent,” he says.

“These social determinants include education, economic opportunity, conflict and gender equity.”

This story was produced as part of AHAIC 2023 media scholarship program, a journalism fellowship organized by Amref Health Africa.

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