Health advisories deliver climate and health Iinformation to high-risk districts in Malawi

19 July 2017

The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) Adaptation Programme in Africa has been working to support the Ministry of Health and other health partners to integrate climate services into national policies and public health programmes. Recently, the Ministry of Health began working with partners to develop climate-related health advisory services in Malawi to advise community health workers on how to improve preventative and curative practices.

In Malawi, recent floods and drought (in 2014 – 2015 and 2015 – 2016, respectively) have had serious socio-economic implications and significant impacts, both direct and indirect, on health. These extreme weather events highlighted the need for climate services and information in effective emergency response. Previously, climate and health information has been disconnected and key messages frequently failed to reach decision-makers on the ground.

In response to this challenge, a multi-stakeholder workshop was held in January 2016 to develop risk-specific advisory messages. Workshop participants drafted messages tailored to specific audiences that detailed the climate and health-related risks of extreme weather events. A challenge faced was the lack of evidence on how climate is related to increased disease transmission risks. This evidence base is necessary for health alerts to be appropriately communicated in relation to climate and weather monitoring.

A follow up workshop in March 2017 helped fill this gap, expanding the list of messages to include climate-driven seasonal health risks, and tailor specific messages by district. To analyse the association between climate and malaria, focus groups for Chikwawa, Nsanje, and Zomba discussed effective timing of malaria interventions. The March workshop also produced a detailed discussion of what climate information each district needed to respond to climate-related health events effectively. These information gaps, while significant, offered a chance for improvement, and were used to revise the advisory messages developed in the 2016 workshop, which now address a wider array of health responses.

The workshop also identified an interface to deliver advisory messages based on urgent climate information by specific location. After reviewing current climate services provided by the Department for Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) as well as global examples of best practice, workshop participants decided that a “Climate and Health Newsletter” would be the most effective mechanism for deploying advisory messages. It was determined that this newsletter would be deployed through email to all health centres and, if an immediate response is required, through SMS to the Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs). To be developed jointly by the MoH and DCCMS, the implementation of this mechanism will mark a significant step in building climate and health information pathways between DCCMS and local health centres.

The revised advisory services system was also integrated into the broader framework of the Malawi National Climate Change and Health Communication Strategy in order to align the Health Advisories to national climate-health goals and priorities. Through steps like these, GFCS is supporting partners to take great strides towards mainstreaming climate services into public health planning in Malawi.