Aleisha Rozario, Jhpiego’s Project Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded Enhancing Global Health Security project, spoke at the first Global Health Security Summit held in Islamabad, Pakistan, January 10-11. Jhpiego was the only international non-profit development partner invited to speak. Here are excerpts from her speech.
Climate Change and Public Health Threats: Challenges, Learnings and Opportunities
Today, I seek to address a matter of global significance that transcends borders and demands our immediate attention—the intersection of climate change and public health. Given the escalating trend in global average temperatures, climate health will increasingly hold greater significance for humanity over time.
Climate change has ushered in a host of environmental changes. The surge in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and heatwaves, directly impacts public health leading to displacement, injuries, and loss of life. Many of the worst impacts are felt by populations that are already suffering because of multiple health burdens and vulnerabilities combined with poverty and socioeconomic exclusion. These vulnerable populations face compounding challenges in accessing clean water, shelter, and medical care thus propagating the emergence and rapid spread of disease.
The World Health Organization estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths annually between 2030 and 2050. This is a staggering figure.
The challenges posed by the intersection of climate change and public health are immense indeed, but in facing them, we have also gained valuable insights. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of preparedness, response, resilience, and recovery in the face of health crises, with lessons that are applicable to the broader context of climate change. The interconnectedness of our global community was a crucial lesson. Climate change knows no borders, emphasizing the necessity of collaboration and shared responsibility for the well-being of humanity.
So how can we start to think about possible actions? The first step is to identify and map vulnerability. Climate health impacts will not affect us all in the same way. We know that vulnerability to climate health-related consequences will be influenced by our geography, our demographics, our biology and health status, the political and social economic status in which we live, as well as the strength of our health systems.
We have a chance now, in the face of a global threat, to truly reorient health action and service provision around the needs of the most vulnerable. There are opportunities to transform our healthcare systems through sustainable practices, investment in renewable energy, and integration of climate resilience into infrastructure to build a more robust and adaptive healthcare system.
For example, in Bangladesh, a low-lying country vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding, and cyclones, the government has implemented a number of initiatives to enhance the resilience of its healthcare system. These include the construction of climate-resilient health facilities, the development of early warning systems, the training of health workers and the provision of mobile health services. In Nepal, a mountainous country prone to landslides, avalanches and flooding, the government has also taken steps to improve the climate resilience of its healthcare system. These include the establishment of a climate and health unit, integration of climate change into health policies and plans, and promotion of community-based climate adaptation.
Promoting public awareness and education through risk communication and community engagement will equip communities to adapt to changing environmental conditions, protect against health threats and advocate for policies addressing both climate change and public health.
In Bhutan, the government has undertaken a sweeping nationwide campaign aimed at educating the public about climate change and its implications for health. In October 2023, the Bhutanese government launched a national climate adaptation plan, which marks a four-year culmination of meticulous planning with various institutions, civil society, local government, academia and the private sector to create a robust, integrated multi-sectoral plan to respond to the impact of climate change.
The Jhpiego Pakistan team, led by Dr. Sobhan Qadir, Technical Advisor, provided organizational support to the Ministry of Health, the host of the summit. Key leaders from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, World Bank and others attended the two day event.