• WHO estimates suggest that climate change will cause extra 250,000 deaths per year by 2030 from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone.
• There is, therefore, undeniable link between primary healthcare and climate change since both have a significant impact on the health and well-being of individuals
Kenya embarked on a journey to universal health coverage a few years ago. This has made it essential for the government to focus on increasing investments to strengthen primary healthcare as the foundation for UHC.
The World Health Organization defines primary healthcare as the first level of contact that individuals, families, and communities have with the health system. It is an essential part of UHC and the sustainable development goal 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
Climate change has significant impacts on health directly (e.g. injury or death from extreme weather events; heat illnesses related to temperature increases) and indirectly (e.g. malnutrition; increased spread of vector-borne diseases; impacts on mental health).
WHO estimates suggest that climate change will cause extra 250,000 deaths per year by 2030 from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone. There is, therefore, undeniable link between primary healthcare and climate change since both have a significant impact on the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
Kenya is among the developing countries with relatively minimal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions but which are sadly the most vulnerable to health consequences. For instance, the changing rainfall patterns and prolonged droughts caused by climate change in Northern Kenya made the effects of climate change particularly severe.
The region is heavily dependent on pastoralism and the changing weather patterns are having a significant impact on this sector. This is exacerbating poverty and food insecurity which are major causes of poor health. Northern Kenya has high rates of maternal mortality.
The effects of climate change such as disruption of accessibility to and demand for health services could be one of the factors that led to the decline of vaccination coverage.
Sadly, climate change can contribute to a higher burden of maternal mortality in the region, as it can exacerbate the underlying socio-economic and health-related factors that contribute to maternal mortality. The effects of climate change lead to food insecurity and malnutrition among pregnant women. This can result in low birth weight and poor health among newborns, increasing the risk of maternal and neonatal mortality.
Additionally, the lack of water and sanitation caused by climate change can lead to the spread of water-borne diseases, such as cholera, which can also increase the risk of maternal mortality. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022 Report, Garissa county is performing poorly in full vaccination coverage.
The effects of climate change such as disruption of accessibility to and demand for health services could be one of the factors that led to the decline of vaccination coverage. Primary healthcare is essential in addressing the health impacts of climate change. It provides a comprehensive approach to health care that addresses the physical, social, and economic factors that impact health. Primary health services include preventative care, health promotion, and basic medical care. These services are essential in addressing the health impacts of climate change, as they can help to prevent and manage the health consequences of extreme weather events.
For example, it can play a critical role in preventing and managing water-borne diseases by providing clean water and sanitation services. Additionally, it can help to prevent and manage malnutrition by providing access to nutritious food and addressing the social and economic factors that contribute to poor health outcomes.
Primary healthcare can also play a critical role in addressing the underlying causes of climate change by promoting healthy lifestyles and encouraging individuals, families, and communities to reduce their carbon footprint. It is important to note that it can only address the health impacts of climate change when health system-resilience with respect to climate change is strongly considered.
The government’s focus on strengthening primary healthcare should, therefore, prioritise strong cross-sectoral linkage for health system resilience to climate change. Climate change resilience in PHC involves developing strategies and systems that can withstand the impacts of climate change and continue to provide essential health services to communities.
This can include a variety of actions, such as building infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather events and providing training and resources to health workers to help them respond to climate-related health emergencies.
Other actions include, incorporating climate change considerations into health planning and management, developing community-based adaptation strategies that empower communities to take action to reduce their vulnerability to climate change and strongly incorporating health into climate change policies and decisions.
Ahmednadhir Omar is the Health CEC, Garissa county