Eleven countries in the Americas join COP26 initiative to build climate-resilient, low-carbon health systems, PAHO reports

Once países de las Américas se unen a la iniciativa de la COP26 para crear sistemas de salud resilientes frente al cambio climático

Washington, D.C., November 10, 2021 (PAHO) – Eleven countries in the Americas yesterday joined a global initiative to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems during the UN climate summit in Glasgow (COP26). The countries – Argentina, The Bahamas, Belize, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, and the United States – joined 39 others that agreed to take part in the COP26 Health Programme, an initiative that includes PAHO/WHO.

“The future of health must be built on health systems that are resilient to the impacts of epidemics, pandemics and other emergencies, but also to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and the increasing burden of various diseases related to air pollution and our warming planet,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said in a press release to announce the commitments.

The COP26 Health Programme is a partnership between the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO, the Government of the United Kingdom, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Climate Champions, and health groups such as Health Care Without Harm.

Under the program, all 11 countries in the Americas committed to the first part of the initiative – creating national plans to adapt health systems to global warming. Ten countries committed to the second part – developing roadmaps, including target dates, for reduction of carbon emissions.

“Ministries of health in the Americas have long been vocal about the severe impact of climate change on health, especially within communities in conditions of vulnerability,” Dr. Marcos Espinal, Director of PAHO’s Department of Communicable Diseases and Environmental Determinants of Health, said. “But this is the first time that they have stood up and acknowledged the major role that health systems play in climate change. That is a step forward for climate change mitigation in our region.”

Health care sectors contribute about 5 % of the world’s total carbon emissions. The figure takes into account the operations of health care facilities, including energy supply, and the medical supply chain, including the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Espinal also drew attention to the alignment of the COP26 initiative and PAHO’s recently launched Agenda for the Americas on Health, Environment, and Climate Change 2021-2030, which focuses on strategies and actions to promote environmentally resilient and sustainable health systems.

In the Americas, health facilities are highly vulnerable to hurricanes, heavy rain and other extreme weather events that are linked to climate change. But global warming’s impacts also include increased prevalence of many diseases, such as respiratory, zoonotic, and vector-borne diseases. In addition, thermal stress from heat waves can increase cardiovascular diseases while water pollution from floods can lead to increased gastroenteritis.

PAHO has been working for more than two decades to help regional health systems adapt to climate change. PAHO’s SMART hospitals partnerships focus on improving hospitals’ resilience, strengthening structural and operational aspects, and providing green technologies. PAHO also trains health professionals throughout the region to identify, predict, and manage health problems connected with climate change.

Among those efforts is PAHO’s “Climate Change and Health for Health Professionals: A Pocket Book,” which uses empirical data to help medical professionals recognize climate change-related diseases and side effects. For example, it provides information on the relationships between certain drugs and climate-sensitive health conditions, which can guide doctors on medicines to use during a heatwave.