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Climate change directly affects women and girls’ reproductive health

Dr. Bernard Onyango, Senior Research and Policy Analyst and BUILD Project Population, Environment and Development (PED) Director, African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP)

Women and girls are increasingly experiencing reproductive health complications owing to climate change, Dr Elizabeth Kimani Murage, Head of the Maternal and child wellbeing unit, Africa Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) has said.

“Physiologically, women need a lot of nutrients and micronutrients for their reproductive health needs. Climate change affects quantity and quality of food production,” she said.

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For instance, said Dr Kimani, “Vitamin B Complex and iron, which are important during pregnancy may not be available in food-insecure communities due to drought and thus affect the development of the fetuses.”

Dr. Kimani made the remarks during a Webinar jointly organized by the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), Amref Kenya and World Health Orgainisation (WHO) on Tuesday.

The theme of the Webinar was:The Public Health Impacts of Climate Change: Unravelling the Science and Solutions for Sustainable Adaptation and Mitigation in Africa.

The experts noted that the effects of climate change on food systems are adverse emanating from its impact on soil, micronutrients, vitamins, and generally the quality of food produced. Quantifying these impacts is paramount and this calls for the integration of multi-stakeholders in governments to find solutions and offer guidelines and policies on food systems.

They said malnutrition is a challenge attributed to climate change, most of the evidence available is based on projections and cannot be quantified. There is a need for more engagements with populations at the grassroots level to understand their lived experiences and together be able to mitigate the measures and come up with solutions to reduce their vulnerability.

Dr Kimani said the problem is that there is a modest focus on health implications in climate change discussions, “There is a gap in attribution science for instance we say that malnutrition is a major problem yet we do not have evidence-based data for this,” she said.

She said actors in science should not base their evidence on projections but rather on longitudinal, empirical data as well as lived experiences of those affected.

Dr Bernard Onyango, Senior Research and Policy Analyst and BUILD Project Population, Environment and Development (PED) Director at the African Institute for Population Development (AFIDEP) who moderated the Webinar said the webinar series function as a vital platform for high-level policymakers, global climate change and health leaders, youth, and researchers.

He said the Webinars series aim to address the pressing need for prioritising health in the face of climate change in Africa.

Further, the experts will use the Webinar Series to explore the climate change and health nexus, the mechanisms for strengthening and building climate resilient health systems, financial mobilisation and potential financing instruments, and build a Pan-African position based on health equity, social justice, and cross sectoral integrated systems.

This way, Dr Elizabeth added, countries stand a better chance of lobbying for the Loss and Damage Fund. The fund was one of the resounding resolutions from COP 27 to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change.

Elizabeth added that more research needs to be conducted to reveal the extent to which climate change affects soil nutrients which in turn impacts food production.

The expert further asserted that cases of gender-based violence, and early marriage were growing because of climate change. “In regions where there is a problem with food security the girl is often married off early so that the family may benefit from the bride price,” she said.

She also added that mitigation and adaptation measures need to be carefully deployed to make sure they do not bring harm to the community.

As much as there is evidence that climate change is happening, it is going to get worse if we are not going to act, we still have gaps, research being done specifically in Africa is not sufficient and there is uncertainty in the political conversations.

Climate change is happening because of human activities, there is a need to focus on the future and plan accordingly on the diseases that are climate change driven to avoid being caught off guard as with the case of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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