This presentation and panel discussion drew an audience of climatologists, health specialists, policy makers and other researchers, and made strides to gather further information as to how Clim-Health Africa can best respond to health sector needs.
The opening presentation, by Joy Shumake-Guillemot, summarised the goals of Clim-Health Africa:
- to shift from a reactive mode to a proactive approach to climate change and health in Africa; and
- to provide coordinated support to WHO Member states in Africa to develop public health early warning and response systems for health impacts of climate variability and change.
She noted that this requires strengthening research, as well as the capacity to respond to research on a local and national level. To do this effectively requires:strengthening data infrastructure and models;
- strengthening data infrastructure and models;developing strategies on the kinds of information, the systems, and the toolset that can be most effective in supporting the objectives of Clim-Health Africa;
- developing strategies on the kinds of information, the systems, and the toolset that can be most effective in supporting the objectives of Clim-Health Africa;operationalizing these systems; and
- operationalizing these systems; andscaling up and sustaining systems and activities.
- scaling up and sustaining systems and activities.
A number of important messages came through during the panel discussion. Key messages that were voiced and discussed include:
- Shifting from a reactive to a proactive mode
Climate change will affect the lives of millions of people. Adapting to climate change, and mitigating the most adverse effects will require a proactive, collaborative response to predicted climatic scenarios. As stated by Ms Mzozo, “We cannot be firefighting all the time; we need to use climate services to predict when outbreaks will happen. …We would like to see the health sector ready to respond to outbreaks before they occur.”
- The necessity to break out of silos and develop connections between health and environment communities
Developing connections and creating interdisciplinary environments is crucial and a core aspect of the Clim-Health Africa initiative. One of the ways the Walker Institute has done this is by placing people at the centre. According to Professor Cornforth of the Walker Institute, you need to build trust with people and show them that you care; this is something that extends outside of project hours. The approach taken by the Walker Institute is very much people-centered. Climate information services (CIS) and health information systems are currently fragmented and early warning information is delayed by passage through agencies.
Climate scientists, and the Clim-Health Africa consortium, need to find ways of creating these connections and collaborations between different fields. This will help ensure that programme and policy makers make climate-informed decisions, and that those working in climate services understand the needs of these decision makers.
- Developing the capacity to respond at a national and local level
Climate forecasting has numerous important uses – including risk modeling, developing disease baselines and investigating the interplay between climate and disease. However, as stated by Dr Thomson of IRI, “If you don’t have the capacity to respond, building a forecasting system won’t take you anywhere.”
The impetus to respond to climate change in a proactive manner and build capacity where required, also requires an understanding of the climate science, and the uncertainty embedded in predictive models. This was a concern brought up by Dr Chipfakacha, when he questioned “How can we give people assurances on acting, when everything is associated with a probability?” Creating useful climate services that can be utilized at local and national levels therefore requires understanding local and national constraints, as well as understanding the academic background and priorities of the actors and decision makers involved.
These three messages are also all inextricably linked. Being proactive and having the capacity to respond does, in part, require actors from different sectors working together to understand how climatic information can be used in a way that aligns with policy makers’ priorities. Unsurprisingly, these three key messages were not isolated to the Clim-Health Africa initiative, but were also voiced as issues throughout the ICCS5.
During the Q&A, important additional points were brought up, which are briefly mentioned here:
- Perhaps climate information is focused too much on early warning systems; maybe it should be more focused on making people just understand how climate affects things.
- As most of the growth is seen in cities, it is important to address urban health. How will we do this?
- We don’t always have ways to evaluate what information is good, what information is bad; how does this impact the decision-making process?
This article provides only a snapshot of some of the topics voiced by the participants. Discussion points were continued during the Clim-Health Africa roundtable meeting chaired by Dr Magaran Bagayoko of WHO AFRO. A full report of both the panel discussion and roundtable meeting will be uploaded shortly to www.climhealthafrica.org