Climate impact on health threats in focus at pan-Africa meet in Rwanda

Four-day Africa Health Agenda International Conference 2023 at Kigali; to discuss steps to build climate-resilient health systems

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 07 March 2023
Africa contributes less than 3 per cent of global greenhouse gases, but the impact of global warming has no discount for the continent, Chief Executive of Amref Health Africa Githinji Gitahi stated. Photo: @SPARC_Africa / CSE__

Climate-related health challenges are at the top of the agenda during the fifth edition of the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) 2023. The four-day event began on March 5, 2023, in Kigali, Rwanda. It is attended by leaders across the continent and stakeholders in health, development and climate. 

AHAIC 2023 is being jointly convened by international non-governmental organisation Amref Health Africa, the Ministry of Health for Rwanda, international organisation African Union and its public health agency Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). Its theme is “Resilient Health Systems for Africa: Re-envisioning the Future Now”. 

The attendees advocated for a unified continental voice ahead of their participation at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78) in September 2023. 

Read more: Half the women in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have any say on health, contraception: UN report

Africa contributes less than 3 per cent of global greenhouse gases, but the impact of global warming has no discount for the continent, Chief Executive of Amref Health Africa Githinji Gitahi stated in a press briefing. 

Climate impact will continue to shift disease patterns and cause disruptions in water, sanitation and food systems, Gitahi said. There is an urgent need for African countries to unite in their efforts to strengthen health systems and address climate-related health challenges, he added. 

As the world gets closer to the 2030 Global Goals deadline, the biennial conference is a significant platform for Africa to raise the issues of the undeniable link between climate change and health. 

The Pan-African conference is also expected to be significant in uniting to address climate-related health challenges and impacts ahead of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) scheduled from November 30, 2023 to December 12, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Climate-linked health emergencies are on the rise across Africa, acknowledged the WHO in April and November 2022.

While cholera cases in affected African countries have declined, the floods due to seasonal rains and tropical cyclones in southern Africa risk fuelling the further spread of the disease in the region, alerted Matshidiso Moeti , WHO regional director for Africa, March 2, 2023.

According to the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is an existing and a future threat to health in Africa.

Read more: ‘Africa’s health institutions must be strengthened at country-level’

Climate change is projected to cause 20,000–30,000 additional diarrhoeal deaths in children under 15 years by mid-century under 1.5–2.1 degrees Celsius global warming.

West Africa is projected to be the most affected, followed by east, central and southern Africa. Cholera outbreaks are anticipated to impact east Africa most severely during and particularly after El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events.

ENSO events are typically led and sustained by changes in the amount of heat held in the waters below the surface of the tropical Pacific Ocean. 

Climate-resilient health systems on the table 

The conference will discuss steps to build future health systems that will withstand the climate crisis.

The significance of relationships between science, communication and strong leadership for a strong health agenda on the continent was underscored by the Minister of Health for the Government of Rwanda, Sabin Nsanzimana. 

“There are four things that need to be connected to have a strong health agenda on the continent and this is the relationship between the pillars of science, leadership, strong institutions and the power of communication,” said Nsanzimana in a statement. 

The continent was struggling to overcome the impacts of COVID-19 and did not receive the required funds for health and climate adaptation and mitigation, said Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director for Africa CDC and called for global support.

Read more: Governments discuss over 300 proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations

“While we acknowledge that African countries must also take responsibility for their role in underinvesting in their health systems, we must also recognise that African-led solutions to African challenges still require some level of global support because there can be no global health security if Africa continues to be left out,” said Ouma.

The event will also address the fragmented efforts that have long stood in the way of holistic progress on the continent

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