It's time to advance integrated climate and health solutions

President William Ruto, his Nigerian counterpart Bola Tinubu and other leaders at the Dubai Exhibition and Convention Centre during COP28 on December 2, 2023. [PCS]

The intricate relationship between climate change and public health has become a central theme in global discourse, especially in Africa where climate vulnerabilities intersect with health disparities.

A study on 'Enabling Transdisciplinary Research and Action in Health and Climate Change in Africa,' supported by Wellcome Trust, highlights key considerations for COP28 discussions on Climate Change and Health.

Building on the momentum from COP26 where the COP26 Health Initiatives and the Alliance on Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH) were established, health has strategically positioned itself within the Paris Agreement. As COP28 takes centre-stage as an implementation COP, particularly in Africa, it must transform global ambitions into tangible actions.

The COP28 Presidency's commendable commitment to prioritise health in climate discussions is evident through the inaugural Health Day and Climate Health ministerial consultations. These efforts signify a push to elevate health to the forefront of climate considerations.

The high-level political declaration by the COP28 Champion Country Group on climate and health aims to galvanise support for the climate and health agenda within the Paris Agreement. However, the challenge lies in translating these commitments into on-the-ground actions.

Despite increasing funding opportunities and global momentum, the focus is shifting to practical implementation at the national level. In Africa, a region disproportionately affected by climate change, translating global ambitions into action faces hurdles due to a lack of understanding of the roles, activities, and needs of various stakeholders. This lack of clarity impedes progress in delivering integrated solutions.

While global initiatives like the COP26 Health Initiatives and ATACH provide a framework, the challenge in Africa is translating these initiatives into practical, context-specific solutions. Strengthening national contextual evidence through case studies provides practical solutions, offering insights into unique challenges and contributing to a broader understanding of effective strategies.

Recognising the intricate interdependencies between climate and health, the establishment of regional multidisciplinary climate and health teams becomes paramount. Traditional approaches fall short, necessitating a comprehensive, multidisciplinary response. These teams can bridge knowledge gaps, enabling integrated analysis of environmental-health interactions and facilitating the development of holistic, scientifically informed adaptation strategies.

Research efforts in Africa primarily focus on the health impacts of climate change, but there is a growing need for integrated solutions that consider broader system-wide climate-health linkages. Indigenous knowledge, crucial in mediating climate-health interactions, is often overlooked, limiting the impact of available climate and health research.

Capacity building initiatives in climate and health are evolving but remain project-based and lack integration into broader systems. Institutionalising Capacity Building Centres of Excellence could forge connections between climate and health fields, identifying common areas of needs and opportunities for collaboration. Universities play a crucial role in building strategic collaborations towards transdisciplinary capacity building informative to policies and solutions.

Collaboration is key in addressing the complex challenges posed by climate change to human health. The Building Resilience Against Climate Effects framework and the Africa Union Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy and Action Plan emphasise the importance of health in building resilient economies. Strengthening South-South cooperation is essential to developing effective solutions that draw upon diverse experiences and expertise in addressing climate and health challenges.

Despite a growing body of research on the impact of climate change on health, there is a persistent gap in translating these findings into actionable evidence for policymakers. Shifting the focus towards applied research is crucial to bridge the gap between research findings and practical implementation, contributing to more effective climate and health programmes.

While there is growing recognition of the intertwined nature of climate change and public health in Africa, funding for climate and health research and action remains a critical challenge. To address this gap, a more robust and sustained funding commitment is essential.

Increased funding should prioritise supporting research on the local impacts of climate change on health, developing integrated climate and health interventions, strengthening capacity in climate and health research, facilitating knowledge translation, and encouraging South-South collaboration.

Addressing the funding gap for climate and health research in Africa is an investment in the well-being of millions of people across the continent. By supporting integrated climate and health research and action, we can mitigate the health impacts of climate change, build resilient communities, and pave the way for a healthier future for Africa.