Climate change and health sector: Call for synergy

By Ofoegbu Donald Ikenna   |   09 November 2015   |   4:16 am  

Climate-changeTHE discuss and call to actions for the Nigerian government to join the globe on ways to mitigate climate change in Nigeria have been left to too very few environmentalist, journalist and learned agriculturalist. Effects and emitting challenges are present in the health sector as well. The impact of climate change on human health is indeed alarming. All over the world, the changes in the climate is affecting all humans in adverse ways; the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. All of these add pressure to the continuous loss of control to sustain the require health standards.

Take for instance, air pollution, the single greatest environmental health risk faced. Estimates released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), reports that in 2012 about seven million people died; that is one in eight of the total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. In particular, the new data reveals a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. These pollutions come from burnt fossils (kerosene, coal, petro-chemical, etc), gas flaring, deforestation (tree felling for industrialisation), bad waste disposal practices, etc.

Under-nutrition already accounts for three million deaths each year in the world’s poorest regions. Rising temperatures and more variable rainfalls caused by the global warming induced by large CO2 emissions have caused rising water levels and running floods; washing away farm lands and reduce crop yields, further compromising food security and nutritional needs. Currently, under nutrition contributes to 53 per cent of all deaths in children under the age of five. Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life leads to poor physical growth which in most cases is irreversible and associated with poor brain development. Nigeria has about 11 million stunted children, ranking highest in the continent and second globally, as 41 per cent of children under five years are chronically malnourished.

Floods are increasing in frequency and intensity; creating breeding grounds for disease carrying insects. Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria are particularly sensitive to change in heat and humidity as rising temperature accelerates the life-cycle of malaria parasite. Today about 3.2 billion people – almost half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria. In 2013, there were about 198 million malaria cases and an estimated 584,000 malaria deaths reported. Ninety per cent of all malaria deaths occurred in the WHO African Region. Malaria kills almost half a million children under five each year mostly from our Africa. In 2015, an estimated 100 million malaria cases and about 300,000 deaths each year make Nigeria the country with the highest number of malaria casualties worldwide.

According to WHO estimate, climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. Most will likely die from malaria, diarrhoea, heat exposure and under-nutrition. Children and elderly people are marked among the most vulnerable, especially in countries like Nigeria where health infrastructure are unavailable, inadequate and ill-funded. The implication is that the health gap which stakeholders are trying to close up will likely widen as a result of the adverse climate change and the lack of political will of the government to provide health facilities via improved budget funding, implementation and releases, not to forget the low level of discussion on the issues.

Climate change mitigation can yield substantial and immediate health benefits. While there is the need to increase public knowledge on these pressing issues, it’s time to translate knowledge into actions. Health sector leaders in Nigeria; the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Paediatric Association of Nigeria (PAN), Society for Public Health, Association for Reproductive Family Health (ARFH), Environmental Health Association, Association of Nurses and Midwives, etc, must stand hand-in-hand with climate negotiators to confront climate change in Nigeria. As policy discussions on climate and health have been on two very wide divide.

Our Health systems must be resilient to climate changes; hospitals and Primary Health Care Centres (PHCs) should be reinforced to withstand heat waves (especially in gas flared environments), desert storms and other extreme weather conditions. We must ensure and advocate that functional water and sanitation services are provided for.

Ministries of Health together with those of Environment should ensure that surveillance systems for climate sensitive infectious diseases like malaria, dengue fever, cholera, etc are put in place. These ministries together with other supporting agencies like NEMA, NAFDAC, Red-Cross etc should make better use of early warning information to predict the onset, intensity and duration of epidemics. Such predictions will allow health workers to pre-position medication and vaccines which will reduce the death toll. Of course, these will require the government to increase the budgetary allocation to these sectors, especially the Primary Health Care Centres, as well as put in place budget tracking mechanism to track the spending of allocated funds.

Health professional, CSOs, environmentalist, religious and traditional leaders, as well as the Nigerian youths; should be concerned, should seek to understand and maximise the benefits of climate change mitigation and improving health services in Nigeria. Stakeholder should call the APC government to activate the implementation of their party promises enshrined in their party manifesto to combat climate change and improved health facility in Nigeria. By the adoption of cleaner renewable energy technologies, rolling out polices that will facilitate climate adaptive agricultural practices as well as improve the budget allocation to the health sector especially for the primary health care units so as to ensure that children and pregnant women have access to health services especially in rural communities so as to protect them from malaria and other climate driven illness.

Plant a tree; improve our health system financing.

•Ikenna is a researcher, Centre for Social Justice, Abuja. 08170944306.

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