Through the 2015 Paris Agreement, governments committed to pursue climate ambitions and action to limit global temperature rises well below 2°C, aiming for 1.5°C, by 2050. However, recent assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that we are off-track meeting this target and there is need for rapid, large-scale and immediate action if we are to stay the course.
When it comes to health, the evidence is clear. Failure to limit global warming to 1.5°C will result in adverse health impacts and loss of lives. WHO estimates ‘between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress, with an estimated USD 2-4 billion/year direct cost to health damages by 2030.’
The Paris Agreement mentions right to health as a reason to act on climate change. Increased health risks are indeed a strong reason for countries to step up climate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
For instance, evidence indicates that temperature and rainfall changes affect the natural habitats of mosquitoes, changing the prevalence of the vector or prolonging transmission seasons (or both) in some areas, and potentially exposing new regions and populations to malaria and other vector-borne diseases.
“This would exacerbate the persisting malaria burden in Africa where malaria kills more than 400,000 people every year, mostly children. In 2019, more than 90% of an estimated 230 million cases of malaria occurred in Africa,” says Dr Rose Oronje, Director of Public Policy and Knowledge Translation, and Head of Kenya Office at the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP)
There is clear need for countries to prioritise health in their policies for climate action. A recent WHO review of health in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) revealed that only 10% of NDCs (18 out of 184) refer to evidence or policies on health impacts from climate change.
Call to action at COP26
Commitments on adaptation and finance at the 26th United Nations conference on climate change (UNFCCC COP26) must include action to strengthen health systems, particularly for vulnerable populations whose existing health system is already inadequate to meet current health demands.
In addition, discussions and agreements on technology need to include the role of transformative health technologies with potential to not only build resilience but also positively change the trajectory of disease burden among vulnerable populations.
Technologies with potential to reduce and even eliminate malaria include gene drive technology that is at various stages of development in Africa, testing wide distribution of Ivermectin drug, use of attractive toxic sugar baits to kill malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, vaccines, and use of drones for larvicide spraying to kill mosquito larvae.
Exploring their potential requires having in place necessary policy and regulatory frameworks, capacity to conduct research, provide the necessary safeguards, empower communities, and address ethical concerns.
Through the Health Tech platform, AFIDEP is convening open, objective, balanced and transparent discussions on potential for development and deployment of these transformative technologies. The platform will hold policy dialogues to discuss how climate adaptation, finance and technology streams can contribute to initiatives exploring potential of emerging health technologies to transform health systems and reduce disease burden in Africa.