Health workers: on the frontline of protecting health from climate change

A statement from the Global Health Workforce Alliance on the occasion of World Health Day

This year's World Health Day focuses on the theme of climate change and its impact on global health. The threat climate change poses to health is evident. If current global warming trends remain uncontrolled, humanity will face more injury, disease and death related to natural disasters and heatwaves; higher rates of foodborne, waterborne, and vector-borne illness; and more premature deaths and disease related to air pollution. Moreover, in many parts of the world, large populations will be displaced by rising sea level and affected by drought and famine. As glaciers melt, the hydrological cycle shifts and the productivity of arable land changes.

With this growing impact of climate change impact on health, the need for increased numbers of skilled, motivated and facilitated health workers is greater than ever. But the world currently has a shortage of over 4.2 million health workers. How will the world be able to face the increasing challenges faced by global threats such as climate change if the health workforce crisis is not resolved?

The most urgent need for increased numbers of health workers is in developing countries. Equally, climate change will hit developing countries hardest as high levels of poverty and malnutrition, weak health infrastructures and/or political unrest will be the least able to cope.

If we fail to address climate change and its effects on health, we risk jeopardizing even further our ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. We face the same risks if the health workforce crisis is not urgently acted upon. The serious shortage of health workers across the world is recognized as one of the critical bottlenecks to providing essential, life-saving interventions such as childhood immunization, safe pregnancy and delivery services for mothers, access to treatment for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and to reaching international development and health goals.

As we mark World Health Day we must remember the critical role played by health workers in reversing and resolving global health issues. Health workers are the backbone of health systems.

On this the World Health Day, the Global Health Workforce Alliance calls on governments and partners to ensure health, and the shortage of health workers, are central considerations for any action on climate change. We are all looking to ensuring a brighter future for our world. In the response to climate change, increasing the numbers, quality of training and working conditions of health workers must be seen as a priority to help reduce suffering and save lives.