Climate disruption can compromise health security through extreme weather events and infectious disease outbreaks, the third annual Climate and Health Summit heard.
Addressing the summit held over the weekend in Lima, Peru, in parallel with the 20th session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 20), Genon Jensen, Executive Director at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said there is need for an urgent need to advance a more concrete and systematic approach to implementing health protection, led by the health community, in coordination with others.
"A greater focus on preventative public health measures could ease pressure on health services and provide a more supportive environment for achieving universal health coverage," Jensen told delegates.
Co-hosted by the Global Climate and Health Alliance, the School of Public Health at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, the Pan-American Health Organization, World Health Organization, and the German Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Summit convened many of the major health organisations leading action on climate change. It explored the health impacts of our changing weather and rising seas, and how governments can simultaneously cut emissions and enable healthier lives for their citizens.
"This Climate and Health Summit has created another stepping stone in mobilising our collective strength to blaze the path ahead. If the health community can help to clinch a climate agreement, we can avoid the tipping point of no return. At the same time, it can create a better deal for health. The count down for mobilising the health community on the road to Paris is now on," Jensen.
Climate change discussions have not given sufficient attention to the impact of climate change on health, noting that it affects air, food and water. WHO research shows that the planet is "losing its capacity to sustain human life in good health," emphasising that in 2012, air pollution killed seven million people globally, making it the largest single global public health risk.
The latest figures from the World Health Organization show that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths annually from 2030-2050. Of those deaths, 38,000 are due to heat exposure in elderly people, 48,000 results from diarrhoea, 60,000 are caused by malaria, and 95,000 are due to childhood malnutrition.
In regions such as southern Africa climate change is already impacting public and community health in far greater ways as evidenced by a research study commissioned by the Food Agriculture Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) published earlier this year, and other recent studies.
The most vulnerable groups such as children are at high risk of health effects induced by climate change.
According to WHO, more than 80% of the current health burden due to the changing climate occurs in children younger than five years old.
Dr Mao Amis co-founder and Executive Director of the African Centre for a Green Economy (Africege) said air pollution increases the burden of non-communicable disease in Southern Africa.
Presenting the FANRPAN research findings on climate change adaptation in the health sector in the recent FANRPAN High Level Regional Policy Dialogue, Dr Amis highlighted the complex relationship between health and climate change and appealed to countries to take action to transition to a low-carbon development pathway.
"Health is an element, objective and indicator of sustainable development. Climate change, health and development are inseparable. There is need for climate and health investments at appropriate scales and actions, such as country-scale vulnerability assessments and capacity building on climate and health," he said.
The Climate and Health summit raised awareness about climate change's negative effects on health and mitigation's potential to create a "cleaner, healthier and more equitable world"
The summit was attended by, health professionals, public health experts and policymakers and its aim was to ensure that health considerations are included in negotiations toward a 2015 agreement on climate change.