Climate Change and Pollution Cause Adverse Health Effects says PAHO/WHO Representative

6 Apr 2022
Mr. Ian Stein, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to Jamaica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands

Kingston, Jamaica, April 6, 2022 (PAHO/WHO) – Mr. Ian Stein, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to Jamaica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands has issued a warning about the impact of climate change on health.

“Climate change is devastating to our environment and causes adverse health effects. Heatwaves, droughts, heavy storms, and rising sea levels impact the mental and physical health of people and countries’ health infrastructure. Vector-borne and respiratory diseases, food and water insecurity, and undernutrition represent indirect impacts. In the Caribbean, we are experiencing the consequences of climate change and we must ensure our health services are able to mitigate associated challenges,” cautioned Mr. Stein.

World Health Day is celebrated every year on 7 April to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of the WHO in 1948. This year will be observed under the theme, ‘Our Planet, Our Health’ focusing global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being. The WHO estimates that more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental causes.

In the Americas, advances in health care delivery, environmental protection, economic development, and other factors have led to improvements in the health of people across the region. However, PAHO estimates that one million premature deaths per year are attributable to known avoidable environmental risks including water and air pollution, heatwaves, and vector-borne diseases.

“The PAHO Country Office has implemented several initiatives, with the support of our partners, to mitigate the impact of climate change in the health services. Recently, PAHO through the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, introduced rainwater harvesting infrastructure and facilitated the separation of potable water for handwashing and drinking at primary care health centers in West Kingston and Clarendon in Jamaica. Solar pumps were also installed to reduce energy costs during normal operations and increase resilience during periods of natural disasters. We have also supported Jamaica under the EU-CARIFORUM Climate and Health Project aimed at reducing mortality and morbidity, and managing the impacts of climate change on health,” said Mr. Stein. 

He continued, “We work closely with the Ministries of Health in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, to advance policies to mitigate the impact of climate change on population health and health infrastructure.”

The impact of tobacco pollution on the environment is also in the spotlight for World Health Day. The WHO reports that 5.6 trillion cigarettes are smoked each year and two-thirds of the cigarette butts generated are improperly disposed. Cigarette butts are the most abundant form of plastic waste in the world and account for up to 40% of litter at beach and urban cleanups globally.

Speaking about the impact of tobacco on the environment, the PAHO/WHO Representative commented, “tobacco products cause wide-scale pollution. Cigarette filters are full of toxins that can leech into the ground and waterways damaging organisms that come into contact with them.”

On December 1, 2020, the Minister of Health and Wellness in Jamaica tabled the “Tobacco Control Act, 2020” in Parliament. The proposed legislation is currently being considered by a Joint Select Committee.