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Climate Change

Published on December 5th, 2017 | by The Beam

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Protecting People Living In Small Island Developing States From The Health Impacts Of Climate Change

December 5th, 2017 by  



“People living in Small Island Developing States are on the frontline of extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increased risk of infectious disease,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “We owe it to these people to do everything we can to help them prepare for the future that is already washing up on their shores.”

Preparing for the future is what the new special initiative to address climate change impact on health in Small Island Developing States is all about. Launched by the World Health Organization, in collaboration with the UN Climate Change secretariat and in partnership with the Fijian Presidency of the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23), the initiative has 4 main goals.

  • First, to amplify the voices of health leaders in Small Island Developing States, so they have more impact at home and internationally.
  • Second, to gather the evidence to support the business case for investment in climate change and health.
  • Third, to promote policies that improve preparedness and prevention, including “climate proof” health systems.
  • Fourth, to triple the levels of international financial support to climate and health in small island developing states.

“We in Fiji know all too well that climate change poses a serious threat to the health of our people. I’m delighted that we are launching this initiative  — in partnership with the WHO and UNFCCC  —  to better equip small island states like ours with the knowledge, resources and technology to increase the resilience of their health systems, as part of larger efforts to adapt to climate change,” said Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President Frank Bainimarama.

© WHO — WHO staff member assesses damage from Hurricane Irma at Hanna Thomas Hospital, Antigua and Barbuda — Hospitals and health centres need to be reinforced to withstand powerful storms, heat waves and other extreme weather events so that they can continue to provide urgent health services before, during and after disasters.

Small Island Developing States have long been recognized as especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, said: “Climate change will increasingly impact the health and well-being of people everywhere unless nations fully implement the Paris Agreement. Small islands are in the frontline from extreme weather events that can contaminate drinking water to health-hazardous heatwaves and the spread of infectious diseases. This initiative can strengthen the response of small islands to the rising risks as the world works to ensure that together we keep a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees C and better, no higher than 1.5 degrees.”

Country ownership is a central principle of this initiative.

Ministers of health from some of the most affected countries have already started to provide input through consultation with WHO’s Director-General and at WHO Regional Committee meetings, and this process will continue.

Since 2015, WHO has been working with the UNFCCC secretariat to develop detailed country profiles to assess risks, and provide tailored advice on how these countries can adapt to, and mitigate, the health effects of climate change. More than 45 country profiles have already been completed and, as part of this initiative, WHO commits to publishing a country profile for all small island developing states by the end of 2018.

© WHO — Child receives an oral vaccination against cholera in Haiti, following Hurricane Mathew in 2016 — Early-warning disease surveillance systems that can effectively detect disease outbreaks are essential in facilitating rapid response, as are preventive vaccination campaigns and prepositioning medical supplies.

Many national health actors, development, and United Nations agencies are already making important contributions to protect health in small island developing states. WHO’s initiative aims to bring together existing and new efforts and scale them up so they achieve maximum impact.

“The vision is that, by 2030, all health systems in small island developing states will be able to withstand climate variability and change,” adds Dr St John. “And, of course, that countries around the world will have substantially reduced carbon emissions.”

“Small Island Developing States are ready to take leadership towards green, resilient and health-promoting national development  — but the support of the international community is essential,” said Dr Joy St John, recently appointed Assistant Director-General for Climate and Other Determinants of Health at WHO. “Less than 1.5% of international finance for climate change adaptation is allocated to projects which ensure that the health of all people is preserved, and only a fraction of this supports small island developing states. The recent severe weather events in the Caribbean demonstrate that targeted interventions are important. We need to do much more and we need to act very quickly.”

Article by Anne-Sophie Garrigou

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