• Friday, February 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Adapting Nigeria’s health system to climate change: Building resilience for the future

Opportunity opens for healthcare funding with fuel subsidy gone

What is resilience in healthcare?

A resilient health system withstands shocks, ensuring uninterrupted healthcare provision. Crisis management demands proactive strategies,  minimising losses and efficiently distributing resources. Climate health resilience hinges on understanding diverse needs, involving stakeholders from primary to tertiary care levels. Identifying and addressing loopholes in real-time, coupled with reinforcing existing systems, prevents future collapses.

Nigeria faces health system challenges amid a growing population, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, fake medicines, insecurity-induced displacement, workforce emigration, low remuneration, and ongoing battles against diseases. Without resilience, preventable deaths and prolonged response times loom, weakening emergency readiness. Strengthening Nigeria’s healthcare system is crucial to curbing mortality and morbidity from various ailments.

How does climate change impact our health?

The contemporary spectrum of health challenges, stemming from issues like air and water pollution, extreme weather events, and energy shortages, designates climate change as the paramount global threat of this century. The consequential degradation of ecosystems poses multifaceted challenges, impacting food production, clean water accessibility, and escalating risks of infections and fatalities attributed to rising sea levels, floods, and heat waves. This, in turn, transforms healthcare access, quality, and resources, affecting human capital and financial capabilities to cope with environmental pressures.

The Niger delta grapples with severe air pollution, surpassing WHO air quality standards due to petroleum-related activities, imposing substantial strains on the region’s environment, economy, and public health. Microparticles, notably soot, contribute to health issues such as heart attacks, malignancies, respiratory illnesses, and developmental abnormalities, altering the overall quality of life and exacerbating environmental challenges.

Waterborne diseases, particularly affecting children, rural communities, and low-income families, intensify due to climate change’s impact on clean water access. Vector-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria thrive with global warming, leading to increased transmission rates. Droughts, heat waves, and floods contribute to respiratory illnesses, mental health problems, severe malnutrition, displacement, and financial hardships.

Healthcare workers endure mental exhaustion from adverse conditions, limited supplies, overwhelming patient loads, and exposure to air pollution. Disruptions in power and discomfort from protective gear compromise safety standards, highlighting the need for comprehensive strategies to address the intricate health implications of climate change.

What’s the current state of our health system?

Aside from a low budgetary allocation to health at 5.75 percent, Nigeria grapples with foreign medical tourism, citizens’ lack of trust and goodwill, archaic and unregulated practices attributable to the exit of qualified professionals from the country, infrastructural inadequacy and virtually nonexistent database systems to monitor risk and exposure. Fossil fuel combustion, indiscriminate destruction of wildlife habitat, industrial activities, use of hazardous chemicals, pollutants and improper waste disposal practices that contaminate lands and water bodies contribute to environmental decay and its concomitant repercussions on health. Only a small fraction of health workers can suitably prepare for and effectively manage environmental conditions brought about by climate change whilst providing uninterrupted access to decent health care as it is outside the purview of their professional training.

Therefore, concerted efforts through multisectoral intervention, policies and actions that strengthen our capacity to respond to acute shocks and chronic stress precipitated by climate change will be necessary to establish a climate resilient health system.

How can we make our health system more climate resilient?

The Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health, initiated by the World Health Organization, coordinates efforts to address climate threats and establish resilient health systems. This includes tackling supply chains, nutritional needs, and developing low-carbon, climate-resilient health systems and financing.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed healthcare system inefficiencies, highlighting the necessity for a robust approach to future crises. To ensure resilience, it’s crucial to replace fossil fuels with energy-efficient sources, invest in waste reduction and recycling, and enforce proper disposal regulations.

All of these and more others can be achieved through the following steps:

1. Climate-related health education for at-risk groups and communities can promote advocacy for safer alternatives and proactive surveillance;

2. Revitalising primary health centres is key to immediate comprehensive care access;

3. Collaboration across sectors—health, agriculture, industry, energy, environment, finance, and nonprofits—is vital;

4. Engagement with government agencies like the Department of Climate Change and the National Council on Climate Change is essential for achieving a low-emission, climate-resilient nation; and

5. Increasing human and financial resources in the health sector is imperative for significant change.

What will happen if we build climate health resilience?

Our ecosystem will be preserved, more jobs will be created, the air and water will be cleaner, the frequency of newly emerging and vector-borne diseases will undoubtedly decline, and we will all enjoy longer and healthier lives.

More of our resources will be channelled into focused research to understand the drivers of climate change, improve mitigation strategies and advancing current technology to improve the wellbeing and quality of life of Nigerians.

Angelica Uwaezuoke (MBBS; Nig): Medical Doctor.

Author of VERNONIA; Blogger (nigerianstories.com): Writer, Editor and Public Speaker.