Measures will strengthen health systems and reduce their carbon footprint
Washington, D.C, 30 September 2011 (PAHO/WHO) – Health officials from throughout the Americas agreed today to take a series of actions to prepare their countries to cope with and mitigate the health effects of climate change.
Saying that climate change poses a threat to public health and that its impact will be felt most by vulnerable populations, health leaders from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean vowed to strengthen their health systems and take other measures to respond to climate change and its effects on health.
The officials endorsed a new strategy and plan of action on climate change during the 51st Directing Council meeting of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which was held in Washington, D.C., this week.
The new strategy calls for countries to equip their health systems to monitor and analyze climate change and its health effects, promote joint efforts between the health sector and other sectors to reduce climate-related health risks, and reduce the carbon footprint of the health sector, among other measures.
PAHO/WHO experts on environmental health note that climate change has both direct and indirect impacts on health. Direct effects include heat stress on the human body during heat waves and injuries sustained in weather disasters. Indirect effects include malnutrition due to climate-related crop failures, water insecurity as a result of droughts, and increases in water-borne diseases or diseases spread by insect vectors, such as dengue, yellow fever and malaria.
Extreme weather can also cause social and economic dislocation, including population displacement. Small-island states in the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to rises in sea levels.
In the Americas, rapid, unplanned urban growth and rural settlements in areas vulnerable to flood and droughts increase the public health risks of climate change. The most vulnerable population groups include children under 5, pregnant and nursing women, older adults, the poor and socially excluded, indigenous and other ethnic groups, and migrant and displaced populations.
The regional strategy approved today calls for actions to both mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change, including:
- Improve regional, national and local capacity to respond to public health needs during climate-related emergencies.
- Develop national campaigns to increase awareness of the health risks of climate change.
- Promote technical cooperation projects between countries to assess and mitigate the health effects of climate change in areas that suffer similar impacts and in border areas.
- Carry out assessments of the vulnerability of populations and population groups to climate change and identify appropriate adaptation measures.
- Include indicators for climate and environmental health in national surveillance systems to provide evidence to support decision-making and action to reduce climate-related health risks.
- Adopt energy-saving measures in hospitals and other facilities in the health sector.
- Support research to gather evidence on the health impacts of climate change with a focus on socioeconomic and gender inequities and vulnerable groups.
- Strengthen primary health care services, including prevention programs, to make local communities more resilient to climate-related health impacts.
- Establish new PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centers to study the health effects of climate change and to support national and regional capacity-building in this area.
The plan also calls on countries to develop national climate change strategies and for PAHO/WHO to provide technical cooperation and promote partnerships to support these efforts.
The PAHO Directing Council brings ministers of health and other high-level delegates from PAHO/WHO member countries to Washington each year to debate health policy and set priorities for PAHO’s technical cooperation programs and for regional collaboration in public health.