Caribbean health ministers discussing new system in face of climate change

Health Minister of Grenada the Hon. Nickolas Steele (Photo via CMC)
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(Caribbean Media Corporation) St. George’s, Grenada, Oct 17 – Caribbean health ministers are expected to approve a plan on health system reliance in the face of climate change at a two day meeting which ends here on Wednesday.

“What we are seeing with respect to climate change and health is that how we define ourselves as a Caribbean people is at stake,” said Health and Social Security Minister, Nickolas Steele.

“Sun, sea and sand is something we have been proud of but it is also going to be our downfall. We need to make sure that we are ready and that we are prepared and smart,” he added.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said the “Third Global Conference on Health and Climate Change: Special Focus on Small Island Developing States,” has brought together health and environment ministers from across the Caribbean, as well as representatives from other United Nations agencies and key stakeholders from Caribbean small island developing states (SIDS).

The meeting is being organised jointly by PAHO, the World Health Organization (WHO) and hosted by the Grenada government.

PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, said that health is being impacted by climate change in many ways, and although SIDS have made a small contribution to global emissions of greenhouse gases, they are at the forefront of climate change impacts.

“We saw last year the devastating effects of hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey, and many other tropical storms that hit the Caribbean. But we also face other challenges, such as floods; droughts; heatwaves; water and food security and safety; undernutrition; massive fisheries and marine biodiversity loss; vector borne diseases; and non-communicable diseases.”

“I don’t need to convince anyone in this room that the present situation is critical. Health is being impacted by climate change in many ways, and although SIDS have made a small contribution to global emissions of Greenhouse Gases, our islands are at the forefront of climate change impacts,” she added.

PAHO said during the meeting, four overarching issues will be discussed, including supporting Caribbean health leadership to have their priorities and needs heard; strengthen national technical capacities to understand the impacts of climate change on health in SIDS and to anticipate and prepare for those risks.

The meeting will also seek to develop the policies and implementing actions required to build climate-resilient health systems and facilitating access to climate and health financing mechanisms.

PAHO said the conference is part of the WHO Initiative on Climate Change and Health in Small Island Developing States, which was launched in collaboration with the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the Fijian Presidency of COP-23 at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in November 2017.

The Assistant Director General for Climate and Other Determinants of Health at WHO, Dr. Joy St. John, said the “reason we are here today is because island nations have requested it.

“More extreme weather events are taking lives and having devastating impact on livelihoods and economies, and even threatening to submerge some of the islands. We need to ensure that people from these islands have the best possible level of health so that no one gets left behind.”

PAHO said the WHO initiative aims to provide national health authorities in SIDS with the political, technical, and financial support to better understand and address the effects of climate change on health.

PAHO said it takes the form of three innovative, geographically dispersed meetings. The first was held in Fiji, for Pacific SIDS, and the second in Mauritius, for SIDS of the African and South-East Asian WHO Regions.

“The conference in Grenada constitutes the third meeting, and together with the regional plans developed during the other two meetings, will contribute to a WHO global action plan for climate and health in Small Island Developing States,” PAHO said.

“Although SIDS have made a small contribution to global emissions of Greenhouse Gases, they are at the forefront of climate change impacts,” it added.

“Many small islands are already seeing an increase in climate-change related events, including high burdens of climate-sensitive diseases, such as vector-, food-, and water-borne diseases; more frequent and severe extreme weather events; and rising sea levels.”

While countries have agreed to take action to limit global warming under the 2015 Paris Agreement, PAHO said “it is vital that health care facilities are reinforced, early-warning surveillance systems implemented; and policy developed to ensure that those that are most vulnerable to climate change events are not left behind.”.

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