Experts urge One Health approach for disease control at pan-Africa meet

Effects of global warming, climate change are critical contributing factors to many of the health emergencies in Africa, say experts at Africa Health Agenda International Conference in Kigali

By Christophe Hitayezu
Published: Thursday 09 March 2023
The effects of global warming and climate change are critical contributing factors to many of the health emergencies and diseases, experts said at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference in Kigali. Photo: Christophe Hitayezu

Experts called on governments and stakeholders to invest in resilient health care, environmental protection, and climate change mitigation to avert future pandemics in Africa at the 5th edition of the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC).

A new pandemic is not far off and should not catch the globe off guard, said Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Sabin Nsanzimana, who officially opened the conference in Kigali. Instead, the world should learn from the COVID-19 epidemic and get ready, he added.

Read more: Prevention better than cure: Why World Bank bats for One Health to combat pandemics

“Our success relies on our renewed focus on epidemiology in public health in Africa. As public health professionals, we have a unique opportunity to get to the root of our communities and identify and address potential public health threats such as disease outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics,” he said.

Nsanzimana suggested the One Health approach towards public health challenges. The strategy is predicated on the idea that ecological, animal and human health are interrelated and demand a coordinated approach to address and overcome the difficulties.

Rwanda’s Minister of Health said: 

It is high time that our African nations enhance their capacity for epidemiological surveillance system by adopting the ‘One Health’ approach and other cross-sector and cross-border cooperation; build research capacity at the human-animal-ecosystem interface; train and retain competent Human Resource for health to deal with non-communicable diseases, emerging and re-emerging diseases and other public health threat which include Antimicrobial resistance and climate change.

The effects of global warming and climate change are critical contributing factors to many of the health emergencies and diseases on the continent, said Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, the Acting Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Every sector that fails becomes a health problem. Any interruption in a supply chain for both health and non-health products results in negative health consequences. Our health systems cannot be effective if we do not acknowledge and prepare for risks and pressures outside the health system itself,” Ouma said.

He recommended cross-sector coordination and the application of lessons learned from COVID-19 to begin making necessary investments in the health system itself, workforces, preparedness, and reaction.

Over the previous two decades, 40 per cent of the health emergencies due to climate have been caused by water-borne infections, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report

In Africa, diarrheal illnesses are the third most common cause of illness and mortality in children under the age of five. Safe drinking water, appropriate sanitation, and good hygiene can avoid a sizable majority of these fatalities, the analysis said. 

Yellow fever and other vector-borne diseases accounted for 28 per cent of climate-related health emergencies, while Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever was the third most common zoonotic disease.

A virus that affects humans and animals, Congo-Crimean haemorrhagic fever has a death rate of up to 40 per cent during outbreaks, the WHO found.

There has been a sharp increase in natural disasters since 2010 as well, with 70 per cent of all-natural disasters occurring between 2017 and 2021. Floods accounted for 33 per cent of all reported natural disasters, making them the most frequent occurrence, the analysis further said.

Read more: Antimicrobial resistance: Prevention key to control pandemics

As a result of climate shocks, Africa is also dealing with other serious health effects, such as malnutrition and hunger caused by poor agricultural productivity, problems with children’s long-term health and development and other infectious diseases like malaria.

Climate change would likely result in an increase in the number of high-risk malaria areas in Africa, predicted a study by the international organisation Global Centre on Adaptation, based in the Netherlands.

Although the fatality rate from malaria has reduced from 840,000 in 2000 to 602,000 in 2020, the illness still poses a serious health threat to the continent, it found.

The impact of climate change will certainly hinder the fight against hunger, with an additional 78 million Africans expected to experience chronic hunger by 2050, the paper added.

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