Explained: What's the importance of 'Health Day at COP28'?

by IANS |

New Delhi, Dec 3 (IANS) In a historic move, the COP28 UAE Presidency, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) is hosting the first ever Health Day at a COP on Sunday, to explore the climate-health nexus and pledge action on climate-induced health crises across the planet.

A day earlier, on Saturday, the COP28 Presidency joined with the WHO to announce a new 'COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health' (the Declaration) to accelerate actions to protect people’s health from growing climate impacts.

The Declaration, signed by 123 countries including India, marks a world first in acknowledging the need for governments to protect communities and prepare healthcare systems to cope with climate-related health impacts such as extreme heat, air pollution and infectious diseases.

"The climate crisis is a health crisis, but for too long, health has been a footnote in climate discussions," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO.

"We welcome the #COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health that emerged from the call by countries for a strong health sector response to climate change and #ClimateAction," he said.

Director-General of the WHO said: "123 countries endorsed it -- this is an unprecedented show of support for the health community. But this is only the beginning. We must continue with our ambition to deliver #HealthForAll."

According to Chhavi Bhandari, Head, Impact and Engagement (India and Multilaterals), at the George Institute India, ‘Health Day at COP28’ marks "a significant milestone in the collaboration between health and climate communities".

"The first-ever COP Climate-Health Ministerial presents a crucial opportunity to enhance the integration of health and climate decision-making. Unfortunately, climate and health considerations, which are inherently intertwined, frequently remain compartmentalised. It is imperative to break down these silos and prioritise a more comprehensive approach," Bhandari told IANS.

The impact of climate change on health around the globe is ever increasing. Warming temperatures are melting ice and glaciers; flooding and sinking cities; surging the threat of diseases like dengue, Zika, malaria; increasing heat waves that endangering humans lives as well as the flora and fauna, and affecting food systems as well as spiking drinking water salinity.

Discussion about the repercussions of climate change on health at "a global forum has significant importance", Dr Shyamasree Dasgupta, Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Mandi, told IANS.

"Impacts of health outcomes are skewed and developing countries are affected more. It also has implications towards human capital formation of these countries. There is a distinct need to have a robust public health infrastructure to build the adaptive capacity to reduce the impacts of climate change. It is much needed that we understand such health burdens to understand the true cost that we have to bear due to climate change," she added.

The Health Day aims to focus on showcasing evidence base and clear impact pathways between climate change and human health; promoting "health arguments for climate action" and health co-benefits of mitigation; highlighting needs, barriers and best practices for strengthening climate resilience of health systems; identifying and scaling adaptation measures to address the impacts of climate change on human health (including through One Health) and taking action at the nexus of health and relief, recovery and peace.

On December 2, over 40 million health professionals also called on governments to accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuels -- a key driver for climate change -- and deliver on their commitments made in the Paris Agreement.

"Emission reduction will help to mitigate climate change which in turn will reduce extreme events and will help in saving lives. Adaptation alone is not sufficient to build a climate-resilient health system as there are limits to adaptation, we also need to mitigate climate change as that will also help to reduce the impact of climate change on human health and save lives," Dr Anamika Barua, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Guwahati, told IANS.

Barua said that "to build a climate-resilient population", it is imperative that the public health system and infrastructure is built to be "accessible and affordable" for all.

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