World Health Day

Message from WHO Director-General

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Climate change will affect, in profoundly adverse ways, some of the most fundamental determinants of health: food, air, water. In the face of this challenge, we need champions throughout the world who will work to put protecting human health at the centre of the climate change agenda.

Dr Margaret Chan

World Health Day, celebrated on 7 April every year, is a unique opportunity to draw worldwide attention to a subject of major importance to global health. This year, World Health Day focuses on the need to protect health from the adverse effects of climate change. Apart from demonstrating your personal commitment to organizing events around World Health Day, it is going to be vital to make 2008 a remarkable year in ensuring that everyone is aware of the health issues and the urgency of the goals to be achieved. Every event and every voice on every occasion is needed to give new energy and commitment to making the fundamental changes that will both stabilize the climate and prevent human suffering.

We know what an unstable and changing climate means for health. Heatwaves, storms, floods and droughts kill tens of thousands each year. Climate-sensitive diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and protein–energy malnutrition already cause more than 3 million deaths globally. Even these numbers do not reflect the devastating indirect health impacts anticipated from the effect that climate change will have on food crops and the availability of fresh water in large areas of the world. All populations are vulnerable, but the poor are the first and the hardest hit. Climate change threatens to reverse our progress in fighting diseases of poverty, and to widen the gaps in health outcomes between the richest and the poorest. This is unfair – and it is unacceptable.

What can be done? We need to make clear that in a rapidly changing environment, it is not just the animals and plants, but humans, that need protection. We need governments to put human health and wellbeing at the heart of climate change policy, and renew efforts to protect health through achieving the Millennium Development Goals. We need ministries of health to strengthen public health policy and practice to meet the challenges of climate change and protect their populations. And, most importantly, we need individuals to make personal choices that will both enhance health and reduce climate change.

World Health Day 2008 provides the occasion not just to highlight the magnitude of the problem, but also to bring all stakeholders together to apply solutions that work. Climate change will only respond to nations, and to people, acting in concert. Whatever kind of events you decide to organize and however modest your budget, we hope this toolkit will help you to achieve the maximum impact for your activities.

The verdict is in. Climate change is real. Human activities are a prime cause. Human activities can also be the solution. We must act now, together, to find ways to protecting human health and the people on this planet. All your efforts will contribute. Let us make World Health Day 2008 “Protecting health from climate change” a landmark event that sets the stage for truly global action!

Dr Margaret Chan
World Health Organization