Published December 1, 2023 | Version 1.0
Report Open

On the frontline of climate change and health: A health worker eyewitness report

  • 1. The Geneva Learning Foundation
  • 2. Biostat Global

Description

This is the Full report. An abridged Summary report and an At a glance executive summary are also available, together with a compendium of 50 health worker experiences.

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In 2023, 4700 health practitioners, primarily from districts and facilities in countries of Africa and Asia, came together for the first time to discuss how climate change has been affecting the health and wellbeing of the local populations they serve

This report synthesizes their experiences and insights. It also presents the background of why and how they came to connect and learn from each other, how the Geneva Learning Foundation (TGLF) created this chance for health practitioners to communicate their observations to each other and the outside world, and how TGLF plans to provide additional opportunities for practitioners to share ideas on working with local communities to address climate-related health challenges.

While there is increasing scientific evidence of the health impacts of climate change, statistics in scientific publications give only a partial picture of the profound changes that the world is going through, and how the most disadvantaged populations are being affected. Embedded in their communities, health practitioners have a unique perspective on how these global changes are playing out at a local level – how is climate change being experienced within communities and, in particular, how is it affecting people's health, healthcare needs and access to services?

What this tells us about climate change and health

The experiences shared here are not intended to prove that climate change is happening or that it is affecting human health. Many rigorous scientific studies have demonstrated these impacts beyond reasonable doubt. What they do is bring to life the reality of this scientific evidence for health workers facing a changing climate and managing the impacts of climate change in LMICs. They demonstrate the new reality for health workers, who are witnessing changes to the physical and mental health of the communities they are associated with, driven by climate change and its interactions with other environmental disruption. 

Indeed, for communities, climate impacts are not experienced in isolation, but result from a complex set of interactions. Solutions will need to be similarly multifaceted. In particular, climate change is presenting additional challenges to often fragile health systems, emphasizing the need to strengthen their resilience and ability to withstand both extreme events and additional demand. 

But the experiences shared are also testament to the resolve of many to tackle these challenges and mitigate the impacts of climate change on the health of their communities. Health workers have dedicated their lives to helping others and are coming up with ways to counter climate change and to help those affected. This reflects a critical but as yet under-valued set of local actors working to address climate change.

"My primary objective is to make a substantial contribution to curtailing desertification, which would necessitate a decrease in the excessive felling of trees. These trees play a pivotal role as a primary source of income for the local population. To achieve this, I am committed to creating alternative income-generating activities for the youth, thereby providing them with sustainable opportunities while also safeguarding the environment."

Moctar Traore 
Man, District, Mali

Why this matters

This unique project provided an opportunity for more than 1200 health workers to share eyewitness accounts of the changes they are seeing. It has helped to create a common understanding of climate change impacts and their health consequences among health practitioners from disadvantaged and developing settings. Although specific impacts are dependent on local context, it is clear that many aspects of climate change and their health consequences are shared across different settings. This suggests that such health practitioners have many common interests and concerns, arguing for the importance of providing opportunities for them to connect, share experience and learn from one another. 

The work has also highlighted the potential to harness the drive and commitment of health workers and their intimate and trusted relationships with local communities. Several examples were provided of collaborative work with local communities to meet the challenges head on. As demonstrated in other areas of TGLF work, bringing people together to share experiences and learn from each other can be a highly effective way of disseminating knowledge – and also highly motivating for those involved.

The climate change discourse may sometimes be dominated by endless global discussions and protracted negotiations about emissions target-setting. While these difficult conversations are going on, real change may also come from providing committed groups such as health workers in the Global South with the platforms to meet, share experiences and develop community-led and context-specific plans to protect health in the face of climate and other environmental challenges. 

Files

Eye witnesses to a changing world - Climate change and health.10.5281:zenodo.10204660.pdf

Additional details

Related works

Is supplemented by
Report: 10.5281/zenodo.8412676 (DOI)
Report: 10.5281/zenodo.10172969 (DOI)
Report: 10.5281/zenodo.10171063 (DOI)