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Africa Climate Week meeting urges integration of health, climate change discourses

From left to right: Edith Ngunjiri, Technical Advisor for Health-Environment Partnerships, Blue Ventures (BV), Kenya; Anicet Durand Oboue, National Coordinator PACJA Côte d’Ivoire; Charles Kabiswa, Executive Director, Regenerate Africa – Uganda; Sheilla Cindy Anyango, Chief Engagement Officer at Youth Senate Kenya and Ellyanne Wanjiku, Young Climate Advocate - Kenya

Stakeholders in the health sector have raised concerns with the Nairobi Declaration document coming out of the inaugural Africa Climate Summit over its failure to address the health impacts of the climate crisis.  The Summit has been holding in Nairobi, Kenya from 4-8 September.

Speaking at a side event organised by the USAID-funded Building Capacity for Integrated Family planning (FP) and Reproductive Health (RH) and Population, Environment and Development (PED) Action (BUILD), Charles Kabiswa, the Chief Executive Officer Regenerate Africa said he was shocked to see health being mentioned as a preamble in the final Nairobi declaration.

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“Health has been excluded from the climate action and discourses despite the intersectionality in terms of the impacts on the vulnerable people,”said Kabiswa.

Kabiswa noted that the Nairobi Declaration recognised the impacts of climate change on health only in the preamble but disappoints the African people when it failed to provide pathways to climate action.

“There is no mention in the responses. This is a perpetuation of how things have been within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change processes. Despite having struggled in several Conference of Parties (COPs) in our bid to see health integrated into climate change discussions and we are not ready to tire,” added Kabiswa.

The Declaration is assumed to have been developed by African leaders who represent poor, vulnerable communities.

“Which of these presidents do not know that women in their countries are more affected by floods, drought, early marriages and pregnancies, diseases, nutritional effects elements of gender-based violence and effects of mental health?” He asked.

“Our research and continuous assessment has indicated the disproportionate effect of climate change affecting more women, girls and children than any other sector,”added Kabiswa.

According to Kabiswa the impact on the vulnerable people, the gender sensitivity and health effects influenced their programming to make sure they included a gender sensitivity.

Ellyanne Wanjiku, 13 and a Young  Climate Advocate – Kenya said children are interested in the nexus between climate change and health because they are first casualty in disease outbreaks such as Malaria and Cholera. They have low immunity.

“Unlike my mother, I don’t have the luxury of going to swim in clean rivers nor drink that pure clean river water. Why deny me what you enjoyed in your generation? We can do better,” challenged Wanjiku.

Agreeing to this, Khumbize Kandondo Chiponda, the Malawi Health minister had said in an earlier submissions that the health sector is the first point of call when floods leave cholera afflicting the population, or when drought hits them with malnutrition.

“What we are calling for is the integrated programmes and services so that vulnerable communities could be served better in the context of climate change,” she said.

Chiponda said what climate-vulnerable communities need are robust primary care services for promotive services and knowledge sharing.“This can be still be achieved when governments adopt integrated programmes and services—so that vulnerable communities can receive comprehensive services, particularly in climate related disasters,” she added.

Kabiswa noted that when people think about climate change, they only talk about climate Adaptation and programmers, including the government’s tree planting leading to exclusion of the healthy responses within the conversation on climate.

Experiences from Cyclone Freddy and Idai in southern Africa as well as drought in the east and horn of Africa exposed the vulnerability in our health systems and infrastructure in Africa. “Continued siloed planning and financing will continue to disadvantage Africa and by extension Africans,” added Mutunga.

According to Bience Gawanas, Vice Chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had in some earlier sessions said the world should not accommodate health in the climate change as a matter of charity. “It is a right that health must find its space in the climate change discourse,” she said asking where is the health social justice in climate change discourse?

Dr Durand Oboue, the National Coordinator, Panafrican Justice Climate Alliance (PACJA) Cote d’Ivoire said there is need to increase policy engagements to ensure that planners don’t go about their business in silos.

“As a grassroot network organisation, we will continue to engage with national, regional and international communities till we see issues of health and climate change are integrated. We have this good news that for the first time, health will have a special side event at COP28. This is just the beginning,”said Oboue.

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