Brazzaville — Climate-related health emergencies are on the rise in Africa, accounting for more than half of public health events recorded in the region over the past two decades, a new analysis by World Health Organization (WHO) shows.
The analysis found that of the 2121 public health events recorded in the African region between 2001 and 2021, 56% were climate-related. The region is witnessing an increase in climate-linked emergencies, with 25% more climate-related events recorded between 2011 and 2021 compared with the previous decade.
World Health Day is being marked on 7 April under the theme “Our Planet. Our Health.” WHO is calling on governments to, among other recommendations, prioritize human well-being in all key decisions, stop new fossil fuel explorations and subsidies, tax polluters and implement WHO air quality guidelines.
“Climate change is one of the greatest threats to humanity. The entire foundation of good health is in jeopardy with increasingly severe climatic events. In Africa, frequent floods, water- and vector-borne diseases are deepening health crises. Although the continent contributes the least to global warming, it bears the full consequences,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
The WHO analysis found that water-borne diseases accounted for 40% of the climate-related health emergencies over the past two decades. In Africa, diarrhoeal diseases are the third leading cause of disease and death in under 5 children. A significant proportion of these deaths is preventable through safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and hygiene.
The analysis also showed that vector-borne diseases, notably yellow fever, accounted for 28% of the climate-related health emergencies, while zoonotic diseases, specifically Congo-Crimean haemorrhagic fever, were the third most prevalent. Congo-Crimean haemorrhagic fever is a viral disease transmitted to people from ticks and livestock and has an outbreak fatality rate of up to 40%.
Natural disasters have also spiked dramatically since 2010, with 70% of all-natural disasters occurring between 2017 and 2021. Floods were the most frequent event, accounting for 33% of all the reported natural disasters.
Africa is also grappling with other significant health impacts linked to climatic shocks including malnutrition and hunger due to adverse weather on agricultural production, long-term health and development challenges in children, as well as other infectious diseases such as malaria.
In Africa, climate change is likely to expand the range of malaria high-risk zones, according to a report by the Netherlands-based Global Centre on Adaptation. Even though malaria mortality has decreased from 840 000 deaths in 2000 to 602 000 deaths in 2020, the disease remains a major health challenge on the continent.
Climate change impact is also likely to slow the progress against hunger, with an additional 78 million people in Africa facing chronic hunger by 2050, according to the report.
WHO is supporting countries to reinforce their health systems to adapt, be more resilient and better cope with climate-linked emergencies. The measures include assessing health system weaknesses, developing and implementing measures to cushion people’s lives and health from the adverse consequences of climate-related health crises.
The Organization is also assisting governments to ensure that their ministries of health can effectively coordinate, improve understanding and monitor climate change risks and impacts on health. Progress is being made. For instance, in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, WHO has worked with the health authorities to set up an early warning and response system to predict the risk of vector- and water-borne disease and respond effectively.
WHO takes a “One Health and All Hazards” approach to climate-related public health events. The approach is based on the premise that human, animal and ecosystem health is interconnected and requires a coordinated approach to tackle and resolve the challenges. As such WHO works closely with experts and partner organizations in public, animal, plant and environmental health to reduce public health risks attributable to climate change.