Climate Change and Health: Thoughts from Our Members

Healthy FuturesWhen it comes to health, the effects of climate change are all-encompassing. Warmer temperatures cause communicable diseases to spread more quickly. Air pollution increases the risk of respiratory infection. Climate disasters lead to severe psychological trauma. 

When these effects are felt, it is the health sector that responds. Yet currently, healthcare’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4% of global net emissions, adding to the challenge and placing even greater strain on the sector.

This needs to change. Health systems must work for people and the planet. To understand how to get there, we asked our members about the importance of taking a climate-sensitive approach.

Malaria Consortium 

Malaria Consortium is a leading technical organisation specialising in the prevention, control and treatment of malaria and other communicable diseases. When asked about embedding climate responses within their work, they said:

“Malaria Consortium recognises that climate change has the potential to affect health and disease outcomes for people across the countries in which we work. As a result, we continuously strive to incorporate responses to climate-related risks into our programmes.

Alongside meeting the commitments made at the COP27 meeting in 2022, we call on the UK to urgently invest in quality research – including health services preparedness evaluations – and support efforts to build countries’ disease surveillance capacities to enable health services to effectively mitigate and manage these risks.”

We join Malaria Consortium in calling on the UK government to build stronger health systems that can mitigate and manage climate-related risks. As they describe, surveillance is key. It enhances the preparedness of health systems via early warning systems, enabling risks to be anticipated and impacts to be reduced.

In our Climate and Health Equity briefing on Health Systems and Wider Infrastructure Strengthening, we recommend that the government:

“Develop and implement comprehensive surveillance systems to identify drivers, at risk populations and document weaknesses and gaps across the health system.”

This will enable communities to reduce risks, save lives and minimise the impact of emergencies.

Unlimit Health

Unlimit Health is an international organisation working to end parasitic disease. We asked Gabrielle Laing, Unlimit’s One Health policy adviser, how the UK government can take a lead in making health systems work for people and the planet: 

“…not only will there need to be better co-ordination, collaboration and capacity building across sectors but also a shift in how we inform decision making. For example, current prioritisation of human health interventions do not properly consider the impact on the environment. This might sound like a ‘nice to have outcome’ but in reality, the health systems impact on the environment and climate will itself drive poor health and increase risks of future pandemics. 

It is important that we first, do no harm. And health systems are currently contributing equivalent to 4.4% of global net emissions. There should, of course, be no compromise on the delivery of equitable and accessible health care for anyone but, we need to create the incentives for health providers and facilities to fully engage with their environmental footprint.

Just like Malaria Consortium, Unlimit Health highlights the importance of adapting human health interventions to mitigate and manage the impacts of climate change. As they point out, capacity building is crucial. It ensures that those working on the frontline of the climate crisis have the skills, knowledge and tools to contribute to mitigation.

In our Health Systems and Wider Infrastructure Strengthening briefing, we recommend that the government:

“Strengthen the public and the health workforce capacity and skills to recognise and respond to the different effects of climate change on health.”

This will increase awareness and empower the health workforce as trusted messengers on climate change for their patients and communities.

The thoughts of Malaria Consortium and Unlimit Health represent the #HealthyFutures movement as a whole. If the climate crisis is to be overcome, we need stronger health systems that reduce the impact of climate change. The time to act is now.

How you can help

Take action today by signing this letter to Minister of State for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell, and Minister of State for Health and Secondary Care, Will Quince, to ensure that the UK government makes health systems work for people and the planet.