Changes in the frequency, location, and severity of climate impacts are placing more people at risk from health-related hazards such as reduced air quality, extreme heat, exposure to extreme weather events, and shifts in vector borne diseases. The World Health Organization predicts that between 2030-2050, climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths annually worldwide due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. The costs of these impacts are expected to reach $2-4 billion annually.
Despite these risks, adaptation finance in the health sector represents less than four percent of the total committed funds. This shortage poses an important question – if these changes will affect the lives of so many people, why does the funding level not reflect such an urgent need? This question points to the need for evidence base at localized scales to improve the timeliness of surveillance, detection, and response of climate sensitive health risks.
Over the last five years, the USAID-funded Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project works to build the evidence base for climate-sensitive health outcomes and pilot programming changes to reduce the risks posed by climate change to human health. Our work aims to strengthen the resilience of health systems to extreme climate variability and establish early warning systems for climate sensitive diseases like malaria.
At the June Adaptation Community Meeting, a panel of experts from USAID, the research community, and implementing partners came together to reflect on the health and climate research to date.
Panelists presented on recent advances and key lessons learned from climate-health assessments, and shared their experience working on these critical challenges while also pointing to promising opportunities for improved programming and action. Key discussion points included:
- The establishment of a climate and health observatory in Mozambique has provided valuable insight about ways to integrate climate information into ministerial priorities and decisions. This effort was catalyzed in part by an assessment examining the impacts of climate change on malaria and diarrheal disease in Mozambique.
- Key findings from the recent report, Shifting Burdens: Malaria risks in a hotter Africa, point to important changes in malaria seasonality at a regional scale that must be addressed to safeguard people from the risks of the disease.
- To better understand and predict how climate may influence malaria incidence, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and other opportunities offer ways to connect and integrate weather information with health system and other data.
- In Ethiopia, ATLAS will soon scale up an early warning system for malaria in partnership with the government of Ethiopia and PMI.
With an optimistic view towards the future and steps taken to date, the panel felt encouraged about the prospects of increasing the resilience of health systems to climate variability and change. These studies and actions are certain to produce dividends in reducing the burden of disease today and the future health of human lives.
Fernanda Zermoglio is the Adaptation and Vulnerability Specialist for the ATLAS project.