By Faith Chimutsa
World Health Day has been observed annually on 7 April to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) with the theme Our Planet Our Health which serves as a timely reminder of the inextricable link between the planet and our health as the burden of noncommunicable and infectious diseases rises due to growing incidence of climate-related challenges.
In a statement, WHO Acting Representative Dr Kanyowa said World Health Organization estimate that more than 13 million annual deaths globally are due to avoidable environmental causes including the crimate crisis. Zimbabwe has have not been spared from the devastating impacts of climate change with heavy rainfalls, characterized by floods and cylones as well as droughts.
“We all recall that in 2019 Zimbabwe experienced the Cyclone Idai which affected more than 270 000 people leaving over 341 people having lost their lives and infrastructure like clinics destroyed. The recent Cyclone Anna and extreme rainfall has caused drownings, injuries,heart attacks ,trauma and infectious diseases signaling an urgent need for all stakeholders to start conversations around climate change”, said Dr Kanyowa.
According to the meteorological services of Zimbabwe,since 1987 the country has experienced it’s six warmest years on record with daily minimum and maximum temperatures having risen by approximately 2°C over the past century. With extremes of weather over the past two decades,the country have had to deal with more than 10 droughts with the devastating consequences on food supply, decreased freshwater and destroyed biodiversity.
As a result of polluted water and sanitation more than people died in Zimbabwe during the 2008-2009 cholera epidemic. With direct consequences for the key determinants of health, climate change is negatively impacting air and water quality , food security and human habitat and shelter.
The knock-on effect for the burden of heart and lung disease, stroke and cancer among others is evident from statistics that point to NCDs representing a growing proportion of Zimbabwe’s disease burden.
“A heating world is seeing mosquitoes spread diseases further and faster than ever before with serious consequences for Zimbabwe. Malaria accounts for about 40% of outpatient attendance in the moderate to high transmission districts especially during peak transmission period while half the population in Zimbabwe is at risk of malaria”, added Kanyowa.
Speaking at the same occasion, climate change scientist Mrs C Denhere said I would like to applaud the government of Zimbabwe’s leadership and efforts to address climate change through the National Climate Response Strategy (NCCRS).
“Zimbabwe has also shown tremendous commitment to address climate change by elevating the Climate Change Office into a fully-fledged Climate Change Department. Zimbabwe is one of the few countries in the African Region which has implemented projects with dimensions focusing on climate-resilient water and sanitation assessing the capacity of health facilities to cope with climate-change induced drought and strengthening health systems resilience”, explained Mrs Charity Denhere.
In 2018 , African health and environment ministers endorsed the 10 year Libreville Declaration on Health and Environment in Africa and this is a WHO supported framework aimed at promoting government investment in addressing environmental problems that impact human health such as air pollution, contamination of water sources and ecosystem damage.
“Under the auspices of this Declaration World Health Organization African Region remains committed to supporting Zimbabwe conduct vulnerability, situation and needs assessments and to create Health National Adaptation Plan (HNAPs)”, said Itai Rusike Public Health Activist.
Rusike added that we also support Zimbabwe to submit National Adaption Plans (NAPs) comprising essential public health interventions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change”.
The government of Zimbabwe , civil society , nongovernmental organizations and communities are encouraged to work together empowering one another to ensure the continued delivery of essential health services during future extreme events while containing the growing incidence of environment and lifestyle related diseases.