Adapt or Perish: AHAIC Conference Spotlights Climate Change and solutions to future public health threats in Africa

“We know what it takes to stop the next outbreak from becoming a pandemic,” said Rwanda Health Minister, Dr Sabin Nzanzimana at the Second Edition of the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) 2023 currently underway in Kigali, Rwanda.

By Michael Gwarisa in Kigali, Rwanda

The biennial conference is running from March 5 to March 8, 2023 under the theme, “Resilient Health Systems for Africa: Re-envisioning the Future Now,” and is being jointly convened by Amref Health Africa, Ministry of Health Rwanda, African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). The conference seeks to provide a platform for Africa to bring global attention to the nexus between climate change and health as the world inches closer to the 2030 Global Goals deadline.

During the first plenary, the Rwanda health minister emphasized the need to support countries to reinforce their health systems to adapt, be more resilient and better cope with climate-linked emergencies.

Speed matters in controlling disease outbreaks together with the four key elements that are paramount; health, science, leadership, community and communication.  We as humans disrupt this harmony. The sooner we stop an outbreak to become a pandemic, the better.”

He said some of the measures that need to be taken include assessing health system weaknesses, developing and implementing measures to cushion people’s lives and health from the adverse consequences of climate-related health crises.

Amref Group Chief Executive Officer, Dr Githinji Gitahi  said the time to act on climate change was now as the next pandemic will most likely emanate from Climate Change linked factors.

AHAIC 2023 Happens at a very critical time, a time when Africa and its people are at critical crossroads, tackling four frictions. I call these the four Cs. One, COVID19 and the public health crises, two Climate Change and climate crisis, three Conflict within Africa and elsewhere and four the rising cost Costs of living,” said Dr Gitahi.

He added that while the threat of COVID-19 has subsided, the African continent was under siege from re-emerging and novel public health threats that are somehow related to climate change.

“Recent outbreaks of other diseases such as Ebola, Cholera and Marburg virus in the year
2023 demonstrates that our health security is under threat.”

An analysis by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that Climate-related health emergencies are on the rise in Africa, accounting for more than half of public health events recorded in the region over the past two decades. The analysis found that of the 2121 public health events recorded in the African region between 2001 and 2021, 56 percent were climate-related. The region is witnessing an increase in climate-linked emergencies, with 25 percent more climate-related events recorded between 2011 and 2021 compared with the previous decade.

Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, the Africa CDC Acting Director said climate change was the biggest global health threat for the 21st Century and Africa was at greater risk.

“Our mandate as Africa CDC is diseases prevention and control, strengthening health systems and the broader health ecosystem for prevention and preparedness. As Africa CDC, we are clear that the current dispensation in delivering health to the continent is not sustainable – Africa’s health priorities are not where external investments in health are going. As we work together with all our 55 Member States in the Africa Union, as well as our regional and global partners, we find it is necessary to address the shared health threats we face in Africa and beyond more holistically,” he said.

WHO data shows that water-borne diseases accounted for 40 percent of the climate-related health emergencies over the past two decades. In Africa, diarrhoeal diseases are the third leading cause of disease and death in under 5 children. A significant proportion of these deaths is preventable through safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and hygiene.

Vector-borne diseases, notably yellow fever, accounted for 28 percent of the climate-related health emergencies, while zoonotic diseases, specifically Congo-Crimean haemorrhagic fever, were the third most prevalent. Congo-Crimean haemorrhagic fever is a viral disease transmitted to people from ticks and livestock and has an outbreak fatality rate of up to 40 percent.

Natural disasters have also spiked dramatically since 2010, with 70 percent of all-natural disasters occurring between 2017 and 2021. Floods were the most frequent event, accounting for 33 percent of all the reported natural disasters.

Meanwhile, Africa is also grappling with other significant health impacts linked to climatic shocks including malnutrition and hunger due to adverse weather on agricultural production, long-term health and development challenges in children, as well as other infectious diseases such as malaria.

In Africa, climate change is likely to expand the range of malaria high-risk zones, according to a report by the Netherlands-based Global Centre on Adaptation. Even though malaria mortality has decreased from 840 000 deaths in 2000 to 602 000 deaths in 2020, the disease remains a major health challenge on the continent.

Climate change impact is also likely to slow the progress against hunger, with an additional 78 million people in Africa facing chronic hunger by 2050, according to the report.






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