Climate change could affect health – PAHO Director

Dr Carissa Etienne

WASHINGTON– The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has warned of the effects of climate change on health, as she called for building resilient health systems.

Dr Carissa Etienne says climate change is increasing the risk of disease.

She outlined the effects of environmental pollution and climate change on health at an event on Eminent Personalities of the South, organized in Quito by the Government of Ecuador in its role as president of the Group of 77 and China.

Etienne noted that about 12.6 million deaths a year are attributable to environmental risk factors, and 6.5 million of those deaths are associated with pollution. She added that air pollution contributes to non-communicable diseases, and is responsible for 1 in 3 deaths due to lung cancer, heart attacks, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“People not only die, but many others get sick, which increases the demand for health services and generates a challenge we must face,” she said.

Extreme high temperatures directly contribute to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and the effects of climate change increase the risk of waterborne diseases and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and cholera.

Etienne said the populations most affected by climate change are those who live in small island developing states, children, and older adults, and developing countries with weak health infrastructure are also less able to cope with natural disasters, unless they have assistance to prepare and respond.

Preventive approaches are needed to promote health and protect the environment, and currently, only about 3 per cent of health resources are invested in prevention, she said.

Etienne stressed the importance of building strong and resilient health systems, with the capacity to respond during emergencies, while maintaining the ability to serve the entire population. In addition, she mentioned the need for systems to be well financed and distributed, and close to the population.