As the world reels under the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak, discussions on one health have started.
Since the outbreak, environmentalists and public health leaders have issued principles aimed at encouraging cross-disciplinary research and efforts to address human health and environmental problems.
While the origin of the virus and its transmission pathway is yet to be determined, it was established that it passed from animals to humans and talks on preventing such future outbreaks have gained momentum.
Speaking at the Kenya Medical Association (KMA) presidents’ dinner, Ministry of Health Cabinet Administrative Secretary (CAS) Dr Mercy Mwangangi acknowledged multi-sectoral collaboration in responding to the pandemic.
“For the first time, the government was challenged that we could not fight the pandemic alone," she said.
“This was the first time I ever sat in a room with architects figuring out how to isolate people.”
As a result, she said the launch of National Pandemic Preparedness Strategy will recognise the collaboration that allows all sectors to sit around the table to come up with solutions for the healthcare system.
In the months before the COP26 Glasgow Conference, the world’s public health and professional organisations released a series of reports placing health at the heart of the climate issue during a pandemic.
One letter signed by organisations representing 47 million global health professionals declared the climate crisis “the single biggest health threat facing humanity.”
The World Health Organisation estimates that between 2030 and 2050, at least 250,000 additional deaths will occur every year as a result of climate change.
A statement by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicated that Covid-19 has shown that the health of people and the planet are one and the same.
UNEP cited hundreds of articles and researches which have been published since the onset of the pandemic on “the environmental causes and the environmental impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Prof Raphael Kapiyo of Maseno University School of Environment and Earth Sciences said “the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that there are many ways to work and collaborate that can reduce our negative environmental impacts.”
Kapiyo added that since the outbreak, many researchers have investigated the possible links between air quality, virus transmission and death rates.
The findings suggest that air pollution aggravates the consequences of Covid-19.
Evans Gichana, the Kisumu County director of climate change said with Covid-19 continuing to spread, national and local governments are urged to treat waste management, including medical, household and other hazardous waste.
“This is an urgent and essential public service in order to minimize possible secondary impacts upon health and the environment,” Gichana said.
According to UNEP, escaping the era of pandemics is possible, but this will require a seismic shift in approach from reaction to prevention.
The fight against plastic pollution is being hit by the pandemic, as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment soars.
Plastic does not inherently make something clean and safe.
UN agencies and partners insist that, if effective measures are put in place, the number of plastics discarded every year can be cut significantly.
“As the world continues to cope with the ongoing pandemic, we should look at how to implement these lessons learned through cross-disciplinary work,” Kapiyo said.
Nixon Sifuna, an expert in carbon trading says that while Covid-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today "we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.”
Sifuna said the spread of Covid-19 is closely related to water and sanitation, as cleaning hands can reduce the transmission and help people stay healthy.
But today billions of people still lack safe water, sanitation and handwashing facilities and funding is inadequate.
On a brighter side, a report by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released in 2020 found that Covid-19 restrictions temporarily improved air quality in a number of places, especially in urban areas.
But they also spurred an increase in some pollutants that were both hazardous and had an unclear impact on climate.
The analysis showed decreases of up to 40 percent in small particle concentrations during full lockdown compared to 2015 to 2019.
This generally meant improved air quality, although the quality deteriorated again when emissions peaked after lockdown.