Incorporate climate issue in health policies

With Bangladesh being one of the most vulnerable counties to the adverse impacts of climate change, good preparedness and management can minimise its effects on public health, said a WHO health expert.

“…That’s like military preparation, even if you don’t have a war-like situation. But you have to be prepared for it,” said Dr Thaksaphon Thamarangsi, director of Noncommunicable Diseases and Environment Health of WHO South-East Asia Regional Office.

Stressing political commitment and effective leadership to cope up with the adverse effects of climate change on public health, he said climate change risk issues should be incorporated into the country’s health policies and programmes.

He advocated for climate resilient health system and more investment in the sector.

Thaksaphon was speaking at a media orientation programme at a hotel in Male yesterday, a day before the health ministers of 11 member countries of WHO Southeast Asia Region going to seat for a five-day meeting in the capital city of the Maldives to set health priorities and discuss the health agenda.

Bangladesh ranked sixth among the world’s top 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events in the last 20 years, according to the Global Climate Risk Index by think-tank Germanwatch published early this year.

On an average, 679.05 people died in 185 climatic events in Bangladesh within the period of 1996 to 2015, the report said. As a result, the country lost 0.7324 percent of its GDP.

According to a 2015 UN report, unless considerable protective measures are taken, an average of 7.2 million people is projected to be affected by flooding due to sea level rise between 2070 and 2100.

It is also anticipated that 20.3 million people will be living in areas at high risk of cyclones by 2050, compared to 8.3 million at present.

An additional 7.6 million people will be exposed to very high salinity by 2050, according to “Climate and Health Country Profile 2015”, released in November 2015. World Health Organization and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change prepared the profile.

Diarrhoeal deaths attributable to climate change in children under 15 is projected to comprise about 8 percent of the number of diarrhea-related deaths projected in 2030. It will rise to 13 percent by 2050. By 2070, over 147 million people will be at risk of malaria assuming a high emissions scenario, it said.

Heat-related deaths in the elderly (65+ years) are likely to increase to almost 30 deaths per 100,000 by 2080 compared to the estimated baseline of fewer than 4 deaths per 100,000 annually between 1961 and 1990.

Thaksaphon too said there are some common diseases including malaria, dengue, chikungunya, diarrhoeal diseases, and respiratory illness in the South East Asian countries that are sensitive to climate change.

“The mortality and morbidity could increase if adequate adaptation measures are not taken,” he said.

Asked what Bangladesh should do right now to minimise the climate change effect on public health, Thaksaphon said policy makers should chip in to the process and more investment is required for it.

Referring to the recurrence of flood in Bangladesh, he said, “You know which part of the country and which communities are more vulnerable to flood.” Building health systems and having more doctors there is a must, he said.

“In this situation, we [Bangladesh] need good preparedness and management,” he added.

Swarup Kumar Sarkar, director of Communicable Diseases; Dr Pem Namgyan, director of Family Health, Gender and Life Course, and Dr Mohammad Jamsheed, regional advisor for Neglected Tropical Diseases of WHO South-East Asia Regional Office, also spoke on eliminating hepatitis and measles, controlling rubella and vector control respectively.

Shamila Sharma, communication officer of WHO South-East Asia Regional Office, gave an overview of the meeting.

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