Guest article: Three ways to build back greener in community health | SDG Knowledge Center

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By Shirley Ko, Director of Global Health, Pact, and Roger-Mark De SouzaVice President of Sustainable Markets, Pact

yet another IPCC report published this week reminds us that we are at a critical crossroads to slow the rate of global warming. As COVID-19 gradually transitions into an endemic phase and we hear a clear call for the world to “build back greener”, those of us working to achieve SDG 3 (good health and well-being) have a timely opportunity to make our support for communities and health systems more resilient.

COVID-19 and the concomitant climate crisis underscore how intertwined human health is with the health of our environment. Climate change is creating intense heat, more intense and frequent floods, and unfavorable seasonal temperatures and weather conditions that influence vector-borne diseases. These climate risks directly affect physical and mental health outcomes. They also trigger a chain reaction of socio-economic stresses that compound threats to the health of vulnerable communities, such as reduced food security, disruption of livelihoods and mass migration.

Many measures to counter climate change also bring substantial health benefits. Switching to clean, renewable energy sources can reduce harmful air pollutants associated with lung and heart disease and 4.2 million premature deaths per year. There is a growing body of evidence linking exposure to air pollution and adverse consequences for mother and newborn. Initiatives that accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contribute positively to overall public health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change threatens to reverse the last 50 years of progress in global health. But health programs have long been on the sidelines of climate action. Below, we suggest three practical ways for health organizations and service providers to move to the center of climate action and serve as key assets in building climate-resilient communities.

First, to stimulate community innovation by women and girls to mitigate the health effects of climate change.

Health programs often prioritize the needs of women and girls because, in many contexts, they face heightened vulnerabilities and barriers to accessing health information and services due to unequal gender norms and other socio-cultural factors. Many health interventions focus on empowering women and girls to lead healthy lives by promoting their education, developing their agency and social support networks, and being meaningfully engaged. with them to improve access to healthcare. Women play a central role in families and communities; moreover, they represent 70% of the global health and social care workforce, providing care to approximately 5 billion people.

Health organizations can leverage this investment in women and girls by expanding their knowledge and skills to address the twin challenges of health and climate change. In our work, we Pact seeing women and adolescent girls in communities from Colombia to Cambodia already showing leadership, creativity, determination and resilience to improve their conditions and build a more sustainable future.

Second, strengthen the health workforce in areas most vulnerable to climate impacts.

Frontline health workers have been innovative and able to deliver lifesaving services to communities affected by COVID-19. In addition to doctors, nurses and pharmacists, this workforce also includes community health workers and volunteers who often serve as essential lifelines for remote and/or marginalized populations.

Health organizations should factor health needs that will arise from future climate change into workforce planning decisions, with the goal of improving community preparedness and recovery from climate-related emergencies. This can be done by understanding and integrating climate information from early warning systems to inform the deployment and training of health workers in climate-vulnerable areas, and ensuring they are equipped with knowledge, skills and tools to deal with climate-related health risks and adapt services. delivery in response to climate change.

Community health workers are uniquely positioned to leverage their deep knowledge and trusted relationships with diverse populations to communicate about the climate crisis and related risks in a tangible and relevant way for health and well-being. .

Third, by addressing financial barriers to access to health and promoting universal access to health, promote climate-resilient livelihoods.

Our sector has been successful in using community-based approaches to address challenges related to population dynamics, access to health services and the impacts of climate change. These approaches have been documented to improve livelihood helping communities develop long-term strategies to manage climate shocks and stresses, while providing increased access to integrated health services that take a climate-conscious approach to emerging health threats.

A community-based approach can also promote public health care delivery systems at the local level while ensuring legal frameworks integrate climate-aware approaches to address emerging health threats. Current programs supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donors are helping to greater resilience at the individual, household and community levels.

These are just some of the practical ways global health practitioners can step out of the fringes to become true partners in the fight to mitigate climate risks. Through committed and concerted action across all sectors, together we can prevent the worst predictions from becoming reality. We must act now to protect our health and our future.

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