​Climate Change: a holding back factor in the development of health system

(Tesfagebriel Tekola)

Social and environmental determinants of health: clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter are highly affected by climate change. As a result, severe droughts, flooding, and increase in temperature are making life difficult for the developing countries.

Though we are at the age of advanced technologies, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s, globally. New WHO’s report stresses that every year, these disasters result in over 60 000 deaths, mainly in developing countries.

According to a report by USAID, Climate Change and Health in Africa, over the last two decades, many African countries made significant progress in reducing child mortality, increasing life expectancy, managing food security risks, and strengthening health services and systems. However; climate variability threatens to reverse those gains and trigger growth in the disease burden.

Drought, one of the effect of climate change, is related with a lack of access to water supplies for consumption and sanitation, as well as with poor agricultural productivity.

Image - Chart, Impact of Climate Change on human health
Image – Chart, Impact of Climate Change on human health

Increasingly affected by variable rainfall patterns, lack of clean water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhea disease, which kills over 500 000 children aged under 5 years, every year, the report explicates. In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine.

Particularly Sub-Saharan Africa is vulnerable to the health risks of climate change due to variable food security, uneven water and sanitation infrastructure, fragile health systems, and a range of socioeconomic challenges.

Floods are also increasing in frequency and intensity, and the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall is expected to continue to increase throughout the current century.

Floods contaminate freshwater supplies, heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes.

They also cause drowning and physical injuries, damage homes and disrupt the supply of medical and health services. The recent catastrophic case in Sierra Leone that took the lives of more than 400 people is one instance.

Rising temperatures and variable precipitation are also likely to decrease the production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions. This will increase the prevalence of malnutrition and under-nutrition, which currently causes 3.1 million deaths every year, according to WHO’s report.

The report also stated that countries negatively affected by climate change will need to increase their resilience to rising temperatures and extreme weather events, both by enhancing their ability to smooth out shocks, which could become more frequent, and by investing in adaptation strategies, such as activity diversification, infrastructure investment, and technology innovation, that reduce the harm they do. Relocating populations also mentioned as a solution in the report.

In order to curb the negative effects of climate change on our health, not only governments, bu also individuals can play a role in reducing greenhouse gases and get health benefits.

As a government, investing on clean energy systems, and as an individual using public transportation safely and using other means such as “cycling or walking as alternatives to using private vehicles could reduce carbon emissions, and cut the burden of household air pollution, which causes some 4.3 million deaths per year, and ambient air pollution, which causes about 3 million deaths every year” WHO’s report states.

However; there are various constraints that the developing countries face to effectively implement climate change adaptation policies and strategies. Thus, the global community must be willing and committed to support the developing countries’ hard work to deal with climate change.


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