Transcript of WHO podcast - 8 April 2008
World Health Day 2008 - a focus on how climate change affects human health
Vernica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode 31.
In this episode,
- World Health Day 2008 – a focus on how climate change affects human health.
Vernica Riemer: Protecting health from climate change is the theme of this year’s World Health Day, celebrated every year on the 7th of April to mark the anniversary of WHO.
Climate change will have serious consequences for public health. It is a global phenomenon, and all countries will be affected. But the health consequences will not be felt evenly. Developing countries will be the first and hardest hit. Dr Maria Neira, director of the Public Health and Environment department in WHO, explains how it will affect human health.
Dr Maria Neira: Key message: climate change impacts human health now and it will be even greater in the future. We know that human being are already exposed to the effects of climate-sensitive diseases, that are killing today millions. I'm talking about diarrhoeal diseases for instance, or malaria, or malnutrition. We know that although this is a global problem, vulnerable people will be definitely much more affected. And WHO will do and we are committed to do everything we can in order to ensure human health protection from climate change.
Vernica Riemer: Dr Lucien Manga from the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville says the region will face many different challenges.
Dr Lucien Manga: There are many important issues, including those linked to vector-borne diseases, those linked to mosquitoes. But as well we have to face vulnerability of rural populations who don't know exactly how to react to changes in seasons, changes in the environment which have a direct impact on agriculture and their food supplies which causes huge problems in nutrition such as severe food shortages.
Vernica Riemer: Based in Barbados, Sally Edwards from the WHO Regional Office for the Americas says the diversity of the Americas region poses special challenges in terms of climate change.
Sally Edwards From infectious diseases to increases in extreme weather events to lack of water to flooding, I mean, really there is none of the effects of climate change that will not be seen in the region. Everything will be here. The small islands of the Caribbean: they have very limited resources in terms of capacity to respond, capacity both in terms of people and financial. Developing response mechanisms is costly and people-heavy. So in the Caribbean everything we do in this area needs to be Caribbean wide, just because they are tiny countries. What we are trying to do is strengthen countries' abilities to respond to the problems they have, strengthening their surveillance systems, strengthening their monitoring, strengthening their ability to deal with the problems they have today.
Vernica Riemer: The European region is equally diverse in climate and health situations. But Dr Bettina Menne from the WHO Regional Office for Europe thinks there is a lot of scope for sharing experiences in tackling climate change.
Dr Bettina Menne: The European Region has 53 members states. We are extremely diversified in terms of cultures, climate, languages and development. A lot of lessons can be learned actually between all these different cultures and ways of dealing with things. So for example we can learn quite a lot from our southern friends of the Mediterranean in how they handle the water stress problems. And, vice versa, we can learn now a lot on how we handle the heat wave problems. So I think there is a lot of scope for actually sharing lessons between different cultures and different health realities.
Vernica Riemer: In the Western Pacific region, the risks from climate change are many: from rising sea level to increasing temperatures. Dr Hisashi Ogawa from the regional WHO office in Manila explains.
Dr Hisashi Ogawa: In Pacific certainly the issue is the sea level rise as well other water-related problems. Heat wave is one of the issues in temperate climate countries. In tropical and subtropical countries, vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are a problem. We are trying to organize - internally within WHO - to coordinate our actions to support countries so that they can strengthen health systems in different disease areas. We also support some countries to establish early warning for temperature increase for urban heat wave such as in Shanghai. This needs to be repeated in other countries.
Vernica Riemer: Drought and water scarcity seem to be the major concern for the people in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Dr Ibrahim Kerdany from the WHO office in Cairo explains.
Dr Ibrahim Kerdany: We have something very significant in the EMRO region, where there is an art competition on the theme of World Health Day every year and we really get thousands of paintings from children from all over the region. This time was really a record 14 000 paintings from children from the region. It is wonderful to see them express what they understood of the theme of World Health Day: how it affects health, climate change, what's happening in the world. From the pictures they all seem to think the drought, the water shortages seem to come out quite a bit, water scarcity.
Vernica Riemer: Scarcity of water is also a risk people face in the South-East Asia region. Alexander von Hildebrand in New Delhi explains.
Alexander von Hildebrand: In terms of the direct impact of climate change in this region I think many would agree it would be related to the scarcity of water due to the melting of the glaciers. I would like to just mention that the glaciers in the Himalayas are melting at the fastest rate worldwide and we have over a billion people that depend on those water reserves. If those water reserves dwindle, there will be huge impact on food production and for us we will see a huge increase in the risk of malnutrition. That is the biggest challenge for this regions in terms of scarcity of water and food in the near future.
Vernica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics do drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.