Climate Change and Health: The Triple Burden for Sub-Saharan African Countries and SDG #13


It is now recognized that climate change, once a distant concept, has become a scathing reality in many countries around the world.

While the most visible manifestations of climate change remain noisy and / or tangible manifestations like unusual torrential rains resulting in floods and landslides, high or low temperatures, and droughts, some indirect manifestations remain insidious, slow and equally worrying.   Among these manifestations is the effects on human and animal health.

The latest report of the Lancet Commission on Climate Change published on June 22, 2015 [1] situates the magnitude and the issues of climate change on health for years to come, but also reminds us as well that acting on the known determinants of climate change represents a unique opportunity to make the greatest progress in public health in the 21st century.

This scientific report, the result of collaboration between academic centers in Europe and China, shows that the steady progress in global health supported by decades of economic development could quickly be swept away by the health effects of climate change.

Thus, these indirect effects, which are prone to increasing uncontrollably, are primarily air pollution, the proliferation of recognized vectors of diseases, food insecurity and under nutrition, population displacements and mental illnesses.
For countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are already suffering from a silent wave of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)—which adds to the ongoing challenge of controlling infectious diseases—the health effects of climate change appear to be third among the triple burden of NCDs, infectious disease, and the health effects of climate change.                                                                                                       

NCDs have become the leading cause of death in the world, with 38 million lives lost in 2012, nearly three-quarters of which—together with the majority of premature deaths (82%)—have occurred in low- and middle-income countries [2].

While global health policies have barely marked the ground for fighting non communicable diseases (NCDs) through the adoption of nine global voluntary targets [2] to be achieved by 2025, climate change and its effects on health dramatically intervene as a new parameter to be taken into account in the strategy of achieving the targets. The global community has also included climate change in its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with climate change being SDG#13.

"The world has reached a turning point in the history of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and has never been as well positioned to change its course," said Dr. Margaret Chan Director-General of the World Health Organization. A systematic commitment to the fight against climate change is a means today supported by evidence to strengthen this opportunity.
To illustrate, global target #1 is aimed at reducing the overall mortality of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases by 25% by 2025.

However, the Lancet report shows that all strategies to mitigate climate change have beneficial effects on health. Reducing emissions of gaseous pollutants (burning black coal and engine emissions) through the increasing use of clean and renewable energy such as solar will also contribute to the reduction of chronic respiratory diseases.

The idea expressed by the authors of the report on the creation of a committee 2030 on climate change and health seems to meet the assent of global health actors and would make it possible to organize and optimize the global strategy of response in an integrated way with ongoing health challenges.

In Burkina Faso we will not have to wait for this initiative to be translated into a vertical program led by the World Health Organization through its Africa office; rather, we will encourage grassroots initiatives by civil society organizations and NGOs to anticipate the need for multidisciplinary actors when policies on the issue are formalized and more importantly implemented. For once, leadership and initiatives can come from the grassroots to link up with health policies or even trigger policies into a bottom-up approach.

The vast amount of scientific evidence already available can serve as an anchor for actions integrated with sectorial policies of the various ministries with the aim of making concrete, actionable and accessible by all daily actions to adapt and mitigate climate change.

Each ministry could develop specific actions within this framework; moreover, it is high time that education for sustainable development—which includes the introduction to climate change—is integrated into curricula.

The new watchword? Let us fight climate change and we will be better off.




2. OMS : Rapport sur la situation mondiale des maladies non transmissibles 2014

Abdrahamane Ouedraogo

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Climate Change and Health: The Triple Burden for Sub-Saharan African Countries and SDG #13
Climate Change and Health: The Triple Burden for Sub-Saharan African Countries and SDG #13