Protecting and Promoting Health in the Face of Climate Change

Climate change is already having profound effects on health, with the WHO estimating it to directly cause over 200,000 deaths annually. If we continue along the same path, this will escalate dramatically fast. One of the most terrifying things about climate change is that it will affect the most vulnerable people, those living in the poorest countries. They, who are the least responsible for climate change, will bear a far larger burden than citizens from the richest countries. Inequalities in social and economic development, education, accessibility and quality of basic health care, infrastructures and public policy, will play a crucial part in determining the national impact of climate change. Once again, the poorest populations will be hit the hardest.   

Climate change will affect health in many ways:

  • Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events (heatwaves, hurricanes, cyclones, massive floods)

  • Famine, drought and malnutrition, threatening food supply of millions and causing mortality and damaging child growth and development

  • Mass migration, with recent estimations indicating over 200 millions climate change refugees by 2050.

  • Infectious diseases, especially diseases transmitted by mosquitoes (malaria, dengue, yellow fever, West Nile Virus, etc) spreading to new territories

  • Air pollution, increasing the incidence notably of lung cancers, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

Climate change has important health impacts and given the inequitable distribution of its consequences, it is contributing to increasing health disparities between developing and developed countries. (1,2) Quantitatively, climate change was estimated to be responsible for “154 000 (0.3%) deaths and the attributable burden was 5.5 million (0.4%) DALYs” in 2000.(3). The World Bank estimates, in a recent report, that a 4 oC warmer world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs. Isn’t that scary ?

In only a few days, thousands will gather in Warsaw (Poland) for the 19th meeting of the Conferences of Parties (COP19) for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This intergovernmental process has been operating since 1994, and serves as the international forum for negotiations and discussions on global action to combat climate change. The conference will see over 10,000 experts in climate change, sustainability, and development come together for two weeks from November 11 – 22 to piece together the initial building blocks of a new global (hopefully binding) agreement, to be delivered in 2015 at COP21 in Paris. You can find all information about COP19 on the official website: http://www.cop19.gov.pl/.

In the past years, IFMSA has been one of the leading NGOs, delivering powerful interventions, organizing massive mobilisation, leading youth efforts, and above all, advocating for a bigger health consideration in the COPs negotiations. It also works together as part of the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) to advocate for policies which promote human health and protect the planet. The Alliance is managed by a number of leading, international environment and health organisations, coordinating their international policy and communications strategy at the UNFCCC.

We need to bring the two agendas of health equity and climate change together” – WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health

At this years climate talks, IFMSA will have a delegation consisting of five people from all over the world, led by Charlotte Holm-Hansen from IMCC-Denmark. The delegation will mainly focus on promotion of the second Global Climate and Health Summit, youth participation and how health should not be seen isolated but how health co-benefits can strengthen other issues. The delegation will be blogging daily, and can be followed on Facebook and Twitter (using the hashtag #IFMSACOP19).

On the 16th of November (in parallel with COP19), the GCHA is holding the second Global Climate and Health Summit, which will develop a road-map for the international health community to mobilise around in the lead up to COP21 in 2015. If you’re in Poland at the time, you can register for the Summit here.

We, as young people and as medical students, have no choice but to act. As the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health states, “we need to bring the two agendas of health equity and climate change together”. If you are interested in getting more involved in IFMSA climate health efforts, join our Think Global Team (call is open until November 24th!); set up IFMSA project “Healthy Planet International” at home; follow the Federation’s delegation to COP19 (on twitter: #IFMSACOP19); sign the Climate & Health Council Pledge; look at Global Climate & Health Alliance resources; and email us for more ideas right here at thinkglobal@ifmsa.org.  

Claudel P-Desrosiers, Chalotte Holm-Hansen, Yassen Tcholakov, Nick Watts
IFMSA Think Global Initiative | thinkglobal@ifmsa.org  

References:
1. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007 4.
2.Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, Ball S, Bell S, Bellamy R, et al. Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet. 2009 May 16;373(9676):1693-733.
3. World Health Organization. The World health report : 2002 : Reducing the risks, promoting healthy life. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2002. 248 p.

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Day 3 of the 64th Session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific

The day started like any other, but we soon realised that today would be a unique one. A big surprise occurred when the secretariat informed us that we would not be able to give a spoken intervention on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as we had initially intended. Five of the seven non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that had requested to present an intervention were denied the opportunity for time and scheduling reasons. Nonetheless, our statement on NCDs was still considered by the committee as it was handed out to each member in written form. The statement is available for viewing here: https://docs.google.com/a/ifmsa.org/file/d/0B3TpS3jsECx5cXRaNGtXSnk0d2M/edit?usp=drive_web&pli=1.

In the morning the committee discussed the important issue of Blindness Prevention and considered the draft action plan “Towards Universal Eye Health: A Regional Action Plan for the Western Pacific (2014-2019)”. The discussion covered many points, and the committee stressed the need for eye care to be addressed in a wider health context, and that it should consider the link between blindness and diabetic retinopathy and between cataracts and ageing. The Action Plan was adopted without any amendments by the committee.

The discussion on Hepatitis B control through vaccination was lively, and amendments were made to the draft resolution “Hepatitis B control through vaccination: setting the target”, prior to adoption. The Western Pacific region, as a whole, has met the 2012 milestone of a prevalence rate of less than 2% in five year old children. In addition, many countries have already met the ultimate goal of less than 1% prevalence rate. At this rate, the Western Pacific region could become the first to set and meet targets to control Hepatitis B in children. One interesting comment was that the link between hepatitis B and certain cancers demonstrates that the distinction between communicable and non-communicable diseases is not always clear.

The IFMSA delegation also attended the regional launch of the World Health Report 2013. With the theme “Research for Universal Health Coverage,” the report was discussed by a panel moderated by Dr Vivian Lim of the WHO WPRO Division of Health Sector Development. The event started with an opening address by Dr Shin Young Soo, the WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. The panel consisted of Professor John McCallum of Australia, Dr Ren Minghui of China, Dr Neil Sharma of Fiji, and Dr Madeleine Valera of the Philippines. Their discussion focused on translating research into policy, sharing experiences among policy-making bodies in different countries, emphasizing the transition from the MDGs to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and increasing funding for research. The event culminated in an open forum where delegates from member states shared their plans in achieving universal health care.

Since the start of the meeting on Monday there has been a strong undercurrent of concern about NCDs, so the afternoon discussion of NCDs was perhaps the most passionate of the whole week. The current action plan on NCDs (2008-2013) has fostered significant progress. Moving forward, the committee considered the new regional action plan (2014-2020) which was based on the global action plan (2013-2020), but with a Western Pacific perspective that takes into account the unique circumstances of the region. 

The regional plan emphasises the control of risk factors through a multi-sectorial approach and broader partnerships. It also emphasises a health systems approach, particularly universal access to services in primary health-care facilities and the implementation of the WHO package of essential NCD interventions (PEN). In the collaborative spirit of WHO, when there was some contention around whether to use the phrase “noting the relevance of health” or the similar “reaffirming the importance”, the committee chose to use both and combined the two phrases into one sentence. The committee subsequently adopted the “Western Pacific Regional Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (2014-2020)”.

After the exciting events of the day, we attended the cocktail reception at Ayala Museum where we ate, drank, and enjoyed the rich history of the Philippines. Afterwards, we continued our ‘cultural’ experience and visited a bar called ‘DRAFT the fort’ with Greco, the NMO president of AMSA-Philippines, and a few other IFMSA friends. We would like to thank IFMSA for the amazing opportunity to attend WPRO, and enjoy ourselves in Manila!

By Marcel Boulat (AMSA-Australia) and Jim Paulo Sarsagat (AMSA-Philippines)

Day 2 of the 64th Session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific

The second day started with the address of the incoming chairperson, Dr Leao Talalelei Tuitama. Commenting on the fruitful results from the past year in the Western Pacific region, he also reminded those present about the current problems in the region and urged the Director-General and Member States to contribute to growing efforts to eliminate these.

The second half of the morning focused on reviews of the program budget over the past year, and proposals for the budget of 2014 to 2015.

The first afternoon session focused on the topic of “Ageing and Health” – one of the most significant issues in global health at the moment. A number of guest speakers took to the podium to discuss this issue: Professor Xiulan Zhang, the Dean of the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Beijing Normal University, talked about inter-sectoral efforts to ensure healthy ageing in China; Dr Mitsuhiro Ushio, the Assistant Minister for Global Health in Japan, introduced policies on ageing implemented by the Japanese Ministry of Health; and Professor John McCallum, the Head of the Research Translation Group in Australia, discussed knowledge translation and evidence-based policy making.

Post afternoon tea, Member States made comments and suggested interventions with respect to healthy ageing. Dr John Beard, the Director of Ageing and Life at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva, discussed the WHO Framework for Action on Ageing and Health. This framework involves 4 pillars which include: 1. Fostering an age-friendly environment through action across sectors; 2. Promoting healthy ageing across the life course and preventing functional decline and disease among people; 3. Re-orienting health systems to respond to the needs of older people; 4. Strengthening the evidence-base on ageing and health. All Member States unanimously agreed to adopting the “Regional Framework for Action on Ageing and Health in the Western Pacific 2014-2019” to help solve ageing-related problems.

By Andy Chen (FMS-Taiwan)