As world leaders hold talks at the COP27 meeting on climate change in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, global bodies like World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, and health researchers have issued a grim reminder about the climate crisis continuing to make people sick and jeopardizing lives, and called for keeping health at the core of the critical negotiations.
To drive home its point, the WHO has said that the direct damage costs to health (i.e., excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), due to the climate crisis, is estimated to be between US$2–4 billion per year by 2030.
“Climate change is making millions of people sick or more vulnerable to disease all over the world and the increasing destructiveness of extreme weather events disproportionately affects poor and marginalized communities,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said as he noted that the climate emergency is causing an intensification of floods, drought, severe storms, both in severity and frequency.
“It is crucial that leaders and decision-makers come together at COP27 to put health at the heart of the negotiations,” he said.
“Our health depends on the health of the ecosystems that surround us, and these ecosystems are now under threat from deforestation, agriculture and other changes in land use and rapid urban development.
“The encroachment ever further into animal habitats is increasing opportunities for viruses harmful to humans to make the transition from their animal host,” he said, adding that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.
Dr Kavita Singh, Director of South Asia ( India), Drug for Neglected Diseases Initiative ( DNDi) agreed, as she pointed out how due to climate change, even countries like France are witnessing rising cases of dengue and dengue fever. “The unexpected surge of Dengue cases, termed an “outbreak”, in France should force the world to take note of climate change as one of the primary reasons behind its (dengue cases) occurrence in the European nation – which normally reports only a few cases of the deadly disease.
“France has reported over 60 cases so far this year of Dengue as against half-a-dozen odd numbers earlier. As the surge in a hitherto less charted territory comes during the COP27 Summit in Egypt, there is a need for the world leaders to take the climate change-induced outbreak seriously and go brainstorming over the issue during the meet.”
She warned that, “The conducive environment due to climate change would spur survival, reproduction and biting rate of the mosquitoes causing vector borne disease.”
Dr Singh also highlighted how neglected tropical diseases including dengue continue to take toll on marginalized communities in many developing countries. NTDs affect 1.7 billion people, almost half of them children
Against this backdrop, she asserted, we cannot shy away from the fact that funding levels continue to trend in the wrong direction. The true signpost of political commitment to addressing NTDs will be a growth in sustainable, multi-year investments from public and philanthropic donors and from the industry. Securing access to the fruits of scientific progress for all people – no matter their income or where they live – depends on it.
According to reports, funding for NTDs reduced to USD 328 million in 2020 – a 6% decrease from 2019, marking four years of decline and continuing a decade of relative funding stagnation.
The WHO 2030 Roadmap on NTDs sets attainable targets for the control and elimination of NTDs, but we cannot reach these goals without increased investment in research for safe, simple, and effective medical tools that are adapted for use in the health systems that need them, added Dr Singh.
As per G-FINDER data on R&D funding for NTDs, public funding fell 7% in 2020 compared to 2019 and was 7% lower in 2020 than the five-year average, a clear indication that increased support from other countries most impacted by NTDs is needed to accelerate progress toward meeting 2030 targets.
At the ongoing COP27, UNICEF too has urged member countries to urgently prevent a climate catastrophe; protect every child from the accelerating impacts of climate change; prepare children and youth through the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) Action Plan; prioritize children and youth by accelerating climate finance investment in climate-resilient social services, and commit to child-sensitive climate action.
Over 27 million children are at risk as devastating floods set records across the world and the number of children affected by flooding in some parts of the world is the highest in over 30 years, the UNICEF has said, warning that this year has brought overwhelming flooding to at least 27.7 million children in 27 countries worldwide.
It says a large majority of the 27.7 million children affected by flooding in 2022 are among the most vulnerable and are at high risk of a multitude of threats including death by drowning, disease outbreaks, lack of safe drinking water, malnutrition, disruption in learning, and violence.
“We are seeing unprecedented levels of flooding all around the world this year, and with it, an explosion in threats to children,” said Paloma Escudero, Head of the UNICEF Delegation for COP27.
Paloma added, “The climate crisis is here. In many places, the flooding is the worst it has been in a generation or several. Our children are already suffering at a scale their parents never did.”
She said the aftermath of floods is often more deadly for children than the extreme weather events that caused the flooding; adding that in 2022, floods have contributed to the increased spread of major killers of children, such as Malnutrition, Malaria, Cholera, and Diarrhea.
“COP27 provides an opportunity to chart a credible roadmap with clear milestones for finance for climate adaptation and solutions for loss and damage,” Paloma said.
Last year, developed countries agreed to double support for adaptation to $40 billion a year by 2025. At COP27, they must present a credible roadmap with clear milestones on how this will be delivered, as a step to delivering at least USD 300bn per year for adaptation by 2030. At least half of all climate finance should flow toward adaptation.
A 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change too have flagged concerns warning that changing climatic conditions are increasing the risk of heat-related illness, changing the pattern of infectious disease transmission, increasing health risks from extreme events, putting sanitation at risk, and having multidimensional impacts on food and water security.
No doubt, the WHO, has called for concerted climate change actions. “Climate policy must now put health at the center and promote climate change mitigation policies that bring health benefits simultaneously. Health-focused climate policy would help bring about a planet that has cleaner air, more abundant and safer fresh water and food, more effective and fairer health and social protection systems, and, as a result, healthier people.”