For many years, climate change has been viewed as something of a myth by people from various backgrounds, with perceptions that contradict the global understanding of the issue. The reality is that climate change presents a significant global challenge, with serious implications for human health and well-being. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that climate change will result in around 250,000 additional deaths annually between 2030 and 2050, due to factors such as malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress. Economically, Africa is struggling to adapt, and Tearfund warns that the expense of climate adaptation in Sub-Saharan African countries could be up to five times their healthcare spending.
As a developing country, Cameroon is especially susceptible to the health consequences of climate change, given its geographic location, reliance on natural resources, limited adaptability, and weak public health infrastructure. Various climate-related hazards, including floods, droughts, landslides, storms, and heat waves, have occurred repeatedly throughout the country, and can directly or indirectly impact the population’s health. For example, floods can heighten the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever; droughts can diminish crop yields and food security; landslides can wreak havoc on infrastructure and impede access to healthcare; storms can damage power and communication systems; and heat waves can lead to heat stress and dehydration. Additionally, climate change can modify the geographic distribution and transmission of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever, which are prevalent in Cameroon.
The healthcare sector has a critical part to play in addressing climate change’s health effects by offering preventive, therapeutic, and rehabilitative services; monitoring and reporting health trends and risks; conducting research and producing evidence; advocating for policy initiatives and resource allocation; and collaborating with other sectors and stakeholders. However, Cameroon’s health sector faces numerous obstacles in fulfilling this role, such as insufficient awareness and comprehension of the connections between health and climate change; inadequate technical skills and tools for evaluating and managing climate change health risks; poor coordination and cooperation among various actors and sectors; limited financial and human resources; and an unsatisfactory institutional framework and policies to support health adaptation and mitigation efforts. As a result, it is essential to enhance the capacity of Cameroon’s health sector to address the health impacts of climate change.
The objectives of the workshop were:
- To provide an opportunity for workers in the health sector in Cameroon to learn about the latest scientific evidence on health and climate change.
- To share experiences and best practices from other countries and regions.
- To identify gaps and needs in terms of knowledge, skills, resources, and policies.
- To develop action plans and recommendations for improving health adaptation and mitigation actions.
- To establish a network of experts and practitioners on health and climate change in Cameroon.
The workshop targeted a diverse group of participants from various levels (national, regional, and local) and backgrounds (health professionals, policymakers, researchers, educators, etc.) within the health sector. Discussions were heated and centred around the following key issues;
CLIMATE CHANGE AND HEALTH NEXUS
This refers to the effects of environmental degradation on human well-being. Climate change impacts the social and environmental determinants of health, such as clean air, safe drinking water and sufficient food. It equally increases the risks of extreme events and their consequences earlier stated. Climate change enormously affects the transmission and distribution of communicable diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, zoonoses and vector-borne diseases that are sensitive to changes in temperature, precipitation, and humidity. Moreover, climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, low-income groups, and marginalized communities with the least capacity to adapt and cope. Climate change can exacerbate existing health problems, such as respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, vector-borne diseases, and mental health issues. Addressing the climate change-health nexus requires a holistic and interdisciplinary approach that involves collaboration among researchers, health practitioners, policymakers, civil society organizations and various communities.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND PUBLIC HEALTH DEVELOPMENT
Due to high exposure to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns and rising sea levels, high sensitivity, and low adaptative capacity, developing countries have become highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. These changes have a direct impact on the public health. Worthy of note is the fact the relationship between climate change and development is such that one reinforces the other. It would be best to have a climate-compatible model; where development, climate adaptation and mitigation go together, and one should not undermine the others.
CLIMATE INFORMATION AND PUBLIC HEALTH
An in-depth presentation by Ramses Meyong Rene from the National Observatory on Climate Change (ONACC) suggests climate information is crucial to achieving sustainable health development. The health impacts of climate change can be curbed if the information is disseminated in time for people and institutions to take adequate action. However, the diffusion of most data that affects the masses is usually at the discretion of the public authority.
PUBLIC HEALTH DEVELOPMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION
Adapting to climate change in the health sector involves building sustainable practices so that future generations are not burdened with the consequences of inaction. This involves;
- Addressing the drivers of vulnerability- health, education, women’s rights and accountability
- Building response capacity- communication and planning processes, weather monitoring and resource management.
- Climate risk management- disaster management, drought-resistant crop, climate-proofing infrastructure.
- Confronting climate change- tackling sea level rise and floods.
After a lengthy discussion that appeared contradictory at times, participants agreed on the following recommendations:
- Public health adaptation to climate change should be region specific.
- Policies need to be shaped to meet the needs and aspirations of the communities.
- Policies framing need to be bottom-up.
- More projects at the community level by public health experts and public health organizations.
- Adaptation policies should be multidisciplinary.
- Adopt community-based participatory research.
- Basic education on environmental health and environmental education and primary schools should be promoted.
Issues of climate change are multidisciplinary, and the health sector has a crucial role to play in addressing the health impacts of climate change, by providing preventive, curative, and rehabilitative services; monitoring and reporting on health trends and risks; conducting research and generating evidence; by advocating for policy action and resource mobilization; and by engaging with other sectors and stakeholders. Participants signed up for an engagement to work on a policy brief which could be used to approach policymakers and to participate in community engagement research at the grassroots level. The workshop ended with remarks from the Executive Director of ACSEA Dr. Augustine B. Njamnshi. He expressed his gratitude towards the participants and called on them not to relent in promoting the climate agenda in the health sector. He equally handed certificates of participation to men and women in the health sector who not only save lives but do so within the current climate crisis.