2021 IANPHI Annual Meeting: Integrating Health Equity into Climate Action

On December 3, 2021, IANPHI held a session of the 2021 Annual Meeting that explored how health equity issues can be integrated in the climate and environmental actions of national public health institutes (NPHIs).

Climate change, biodiversity loss and other degradations of Earth’s life-supporting systems are a severe threat to the physical and mental well-being of populations worldwide. Their adverse health impacts increase existing health, demographic and socio-economic inequalities, by affecting the most vulnerable populations. The IANPHI Roadmap for Action on Health and Climate Change, launched in November 2021, highlighted how NPHIs can identify, prevent and respond to these health impacts.

Moderated by Dr. Tracey Cooper, chief executive of Public Health Wales, the annual meeting session further explored how health equity issues can be integrated in NPHIs’ actions on climate, environment and health. Speakers from Europe and Africa shared examples of good practices at the national level and discussed ways to act collectively at the international level to jointly address climate change and health inequities.

Putting Equity at the Heart of Measures to Address Climate Change, by Ingrid Stegeman, Program Manager, EuroHealthNet

EuroHealthNet is working to reduce health inequalities in Europe and improve health and wellbeing for all through a “triple-win” approach to help restore the environment and promote health and equity. Ingrid Stegeman reminded that the people who are less well-off generally have a lower carbon footprint, but suffer more from the consequences of environmental degradations and from the measures benefiting the environment and health. It is therefore crucial to consider the social and health inequalities when developing climate measures, and to address the underlying structural causes of these inequalities.

The European Union has taken several initiatives on climate change, in particular the Green Deal and the funds supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, such as the Social Climate Fund.

EuroHealthNet’s recommendations on what NPHIs can do to respond to the impacts of climate change on health inequities are: 1) to advocate for a ‘fair’ transition to more sustainable societies of well-being; 2) to collaborate to develop common indicators on climate change and health, 3) to elaborate common messages to feed into the next WHO Ministerial Conference on Climate Change and Health (2023), 4) to invest in local initiatives engaging local communities and 5) Invest in the capacity-building of public health professionals.

Learn more: Health Inequalities PortalJoint Action on Health Inequalities website

Challenges and Perspectives of Climate Change and Health Equity in Mozambique by Dr. Tatiana Marrufo, Lead, Program of Environment and Health, Instituto Nacional de Saúde (Mozambique)

Due to its geographic situation, Mozambique is particularly vulnerable to the increase of extreme weather events, especially droughts, floods and tropical cyclones. This leads to higher cases of climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and cholera, with stronger impacts in the regions affected by the climate changes.

The National Institute of Health (INS) is responding to these impacts through five areas of action: 1) the implementation of the Climate Environment and Health Research Agenda, 2) monitoring environmental health risks, 3) assessing vulnerabilities in health care facilities, 4) contributing to the awareness and education and 5) supporting the health sector on the implementation of national plans for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The ELLIS Project: Monitoring and Mitigating Environmental Health Inequalities in Belgium, by Dr. Brecht Devleesschauwer, Senior Epidemiologist, Sciensano (Belgium)

The ELLIS project aims to study the extent of socioeconomic differences in the environmental burden of disease and to develop a tool to assess the impact of policy measures on the extent of and on the inequalities in the environmental burden of disease.

The concept of environmental health inequalities was defined as the integration of three key components: data on environmental stressors (such as air pollution), on health outcomes and on deprivation. The first element of the project is the development of an index of multiple deprivation and health inequalities in Belgium and the second part will aim to integrate the environmental inequalities and burden of disease in Belgium.

Highlights of COP15 and COP26 from a Health Equity Perspective, by Dr. Luiz Augusto Galvão, Senior Researcher, Center of International Relations in Health, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz) (Brazil)

The continents and countries are inequitably affected by the impacts of climate change. While the countries in North America, Europe and North-East Asia contribute the most to global carbon emissions, low-and middle-income countries in Africa, in the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia are the most highly impacted by climate change. 

Climate finance and economy are critical elements of response to these global inequalities. Dr. Galvão reminded that at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of 2009, the developed countries promised to fund actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change in developing countries. These promises were not kept, as some countries did not invest as much as announced, or did it through loans. Today, studies show that climate investments have to increase radically in order to maintain the global warming at 1.5°C.

To conclude, Dr. Galvão presented the two main changes of attitude observed at COP26 in November 2021: 1) the increased participation of civil society facing the climate emergency, and 2) the greater focus on health as one of the main issues of climate change.

Conclusions from the Discussions

The discussion that followed the presentations highlighted three main elements of attention for NPHIs regarding health inequities and climate change:

  • How to work on common indicators meaningful for local and national stakeholders, and the potential role of IANPHI to support this work;
  • The response to the effects of extractive economies in poor countries and to the shift of environment risk factors from developed countries to developing countries;
  • How to give the voice of the science to those who are the most suffering from social and health inequalities (indigenous communities, homeless populations, etc.).

Learn more about the 2021 IANPHI Annual Meeting

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