'Mitigate climate change impacts with strong health systems'

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New Delhi: There is an increasing need to strengthen health systems to be climate resilient and adaptable to...

New Delhi: There is an increasing need to strengthen health systems to be climate resilient and adaptable to mitigate the impacts of climate change, Chief Scientist at WHO Soumya Swaminathan said on Saturday.

"We have seen in India and other parts of the world the devastating impacts of climate change on people's health but also the damaging impacts of institutions which are providing healthcare like primary healthcare centers and hospitals.

We need to design healthcare facilities to be climate adaptable, for example health centres being less dependent on fossil fuel and adapting to renewable energy sources," she said in a video address at the National Health Conclave 2019.

She said electricity and running water are absolutely essential to provide quality healthcare facilities to the people. Other area of focus is the use of plastics and cost effective, environment-friendly and effective disposal of plastic in our health systems, she said.

The Centre for Environmental Health (CEH), a Centre of Excellence within the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), and Association of Healthcare Providers of India (AHPI) organised a day-long conclave dedicated to the health impacts of climate change in India and appropriate risk mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Professor K Srinath Reddy, president of PHFI, said climate change has become the defining threat of the century and human civilisation as it advances and there is an increasing need to build climate smart and climate resilient health systems.

The impacts of climate change are multiple in nature, including the increase of vector borne diseases, an array of chronic diseases which include cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney disorders and burden on water, exacerbated impact of air pollution on health, heat stress impacts on human health, and growing impact on mental health, he said.

"It is well demonstrated that rise in temperature increases the growth of inter-group and intra-group conflicts. These are some of the consequences the health system has to deal with. Our nutrition and food systems are vulnerable to climate change, in terms of both reduced production and quality of staples, non-staples, fruits and vegetables.

In spite of mounting evidence of the impact of climate change and health, there is a wavering political will in some countries and the voices of climate denial are growing shrill and strident. This needs to be countered by the health sector acting as the conscience keeper of society through evidence-based advocacy," he said.

Reddy asserted the health sector can make a substantial contribution by adopting green technologies to reduce various greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing energy consumption by adopting renewable energies.

Health care providers also have an opportunity to be effective communicators of good science on the potential health threats and health effects that have already been documented to policy makers, urging them to act.

"The health sector also has to develop climate resilient health systems that can function efficiently even in the challenging circumstances of climate induced extreme weather events and disasters like heavy rains, floods and power failures," he said.

Gary Cohen, president and Co-Founder, Healthcare without Harm, said, "Climate change resulting from growing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities (anthropogenic) are of increasing concern as this is a prime cause for global warming.

"In India, the major sources of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (major component of GHG) emissions come from combustion of fossil fuels, principally coal, oil and natural gas, apart from deforestation, changes in land use, soil erosion and agriculture (including livestock). Reducing our carbon emissions therefore becomes of prime importance.

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