Climate change and health solutions: Scientists make the case for prioritizing the needs of vulnerable communities

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By Lénah Bosibori

Scientists across Africa have highlighted the need to put vulnerable communities at the forefront when it comes to addressing the interrelated challenges of climate change and health, as they bear the brunt of the effects.

Speaking at a webinar on “Prioritizing Health in Action on Climate Change in Africa” organized by the Capacity Building Program for Integrated Family Planning (FP) and Reproductive Health (RH) and Action on Population, Environment and Development (PED), funded by USAID (BUILD) On Tuesday, environmental health scientist Melvin Otieno said there is an opportunity to strengthen health systems in communities to make them resilient to the impacts of climate change.

“When we talk about devastating floods, earthquakes and prolonged periods of drought that are often seen in arid and semi-arid areas, we are looking at these vulnerable communities who do not relate these effects to the type of diseases and invasive species that may occur. affect them,” Otieno said.

Otieno added that there is a great opportunity for communities to understand the links between climate change impacts and health systems because, from one or two interviews they conducted at the community level, they observed that there is insufficient understanding of how climate change interacts with health and the meaningful interventions that need to be put in place.

Otieno, who is also the founder of the Planetary Health Eastern Africa Hub, added that what vulnerable communities understand is that when floods occur, displacement is the only effect of climate change, but they forget the effects of diseases that accompany flooding and malnutrition. prolonged droughts.

“There is a huge opportunity for us to put in place and implement policies around research in terms of climate change and health, we need to explain the scientific reports to the people most affected who really need these information,” Otieno added.

It calls for a common funding mechanism that will help them see more projects and collaborations around the link between climate change and health in Africa.

“We must harness even the indigenous knowledge that supports the links between climate change and health. These are aspects that can only be achieved when we work with communities in our various jointly funded initiatives,” she adds.

According to her, many people experience the effects of climate without knowing it, such as deteriorating air quality in African cities, where very few people are able to make this connection.

Furthermore, Otieno called on the North to come up with funding mechanisms that reach community levels to bridge the knowledge and understanding gap by building the capacity of practitioners in this area.

“Resilient health systems are needed, but understanding of how climate change and health can be included in mainstream national policies is very limited,” she adds.

Otieno reiterated the importance of knowledge sharing, which is a crucial need for knowledge transfer when talking about academics and researchers.

“We need to stop working in silos and build links and connections that will allow us to present our arguments in policy dialogues such as webinars,” Otieno said.

The East Africa Planetary Health Hub aims to drive regional community building and also provide education for transformative action and influence policy in our greatest climate change scenario.

She adds that the Planetary Health Alliance is working to bridge the policy gap between climate change and health in Africa by developing an educational toolkit for universities.

The toolkit will be launched soon and will be useful to institutions in East Africa and beyond who wish to integrate planetary health and climate change into their curriculum.

“We realized that there is a knowledge gap, especially among students at university level, and that there was a need to synergize the concepts of One Health and planetary health so that they could be integrated into the educational program in the form of a course or unit.” added Otieno.

She adds that it is important to involve communities in discussions about climate change and knowledge sharing between academics, policy makers and researchers.

Webinar moderator, Dr. Bernard Onyango, Senior Research and Policy Analyst and PED Director of the BUILD ProjectThe African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) said the BUILD project brings together leaders and organizations from Southern Africa, Asia and the United States who together have demonstrated technical expertise in promoting of intersectoral interventions in the areas of population, environment and development (PED) and in advocacy for voluntary family planning (FP) and capacity building. He said the consortium partners in the BUILD project include United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), Leadership for environment and development Southern and Eastern Africa (LEADER SEA), PATH Philippines Foundation Inc (PFPI), FHI360 and the Pan-African Alliance for Climate Justice (PACJA).

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