Interview with Mr. Thomas Hurley, AfDB Human Development Director
"Poor developing countries are most vulnerable to climate change"
The AfDB will strengthen support to its regional member countries to cope with the threats posed by climate change . It will further strengthen key features of their public health systems such as the control of neglected tropical diseases, primary health care (including clean water, environment and sanitation) and enhance women’s and vulnerable groups’ welfare, says the AfDB Human Development Director, Mr. Thomas Hurley, in an interview on the occasion of the celebration of World Health Day.
Question: What are the objectives of the 2008 World Health Day?
Answer: WHO selected the theme for this year's World Health Day in recognition that climate change is posing ever growing threats to global public health security, and to place health at the centre of the global dialogue about climate change. The objective is to galvanize and catalyze public participation in the global campaign to protect health from the adverse effects of climate change. It is an opportunity for international agencies, non-governmental organizations and governments to raise awareness and public understanding of the global and local health consequences of climate change; and to deepen advocacy campaigns that will compel interdisciplinary and intersectoral partnerships by governments, the international community, civil society and individuals to take effective actions to reduce the impact of climate change on health.
Question: What are the major effects of climate change on health?
Answer: Climate change refers to an increase in average global temperatures. Natural events and human activities are believed to be contributing to an increase in average global temperatures. Variations and changes in climatic conditions cause death and disease through natural disasters, such as heat waves, floods and droughts. In addition, many important diseases are highly sensitive to changing temperatures and precipitation.
However, the impact of climate change on human health is not evenly distributed around the world. Poor developing countries, particularly in arid, High Mountain zones, Small Island States and densely populated coastal areas are considered to be most vulnerable. It is further disturbing to note that extreme climate events such as floods, hurricanes and drought are expected to become more frequent with climate change. These disruptive events will also have their greatest impact in poor countries.
Over the last decades, climatic changes have probably already affected some health outcomes. Both stagnant and surface water as well as temperature have important influences on insect vectors of vector-borne infectious diseases as well as certain water-related diseases. Of particular importance are vector mosquito species, which spread malaria and viral diseases such as yellow fever and dengue. Warmer temperatures enhance vector breeding and reduce the pathogen’s maturation period within the vector organism. Mosquitoes need access to stagnant water in order to breed, and the adults need humid conditions for viability. On the other hand, very hot and dry conditions can reduce mosquito survival.
Question: What are the major public health tools for an effective response to climate change effects? Answer: Fortunately, much of the health risk is avoidable through existing health programmes and interventions. The rebuilding and maintaining of public health infrastructure is often viewed as the most important, cost-effective and urgently needed adaptation strategy. This includes public health training, more effective surveillance and emergency response systems, as well as sustainable disease prevention and control programs.
Question: How is the African Development Bank (AfDB) responding to climate change health challenges?
Answer: The Bank Group will deepen its support for its regional member countries (RMCs) to cope with the threats posed by climate change by further strengthening key features of their public health systems such as the control of neglected tropical diseases, primary health care (to include clean water, environment and sanitation) and enhancing the welfare of women and vulnerable groups.
It is well recognized that effectively managing the impact of climate change on public health requires concerted and appropriate individual, community and government action, as well as policy changes. We will therefore support partnerships that will generate commitment and actions and bring immediate health benefits to all. We will also strengthen our support of the health-sector voice within the overall UN response to this global challenge.
Within the Bank, we will continue to galvanize efforts to promote healthy development choices in our interventions across sectors, such as infrastructure, agriculture, education and water.
Interview by Yolanda Nunes-Correia, email@example.com