African leaders must unite on climate change and health investment

Africa Climate Summit

President William Ruto takes a group photo with delegates at KICC, Nairobi on September 4, 2023 during the Africa Climate Summit 2023.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

World leaders are converging for the Africa Climate Summit, hosted in Kenya from September 4 to 6, at a time when climate change has become one of the most consequential structural determinants of health.

Despite contributing far less to global carbon emissions, African countries continue to suffer the greatest impacts and the region is already witnessing an increase in climate-linked emergencies.

Looking ahead, climate and health vulnerabilities are only aggravated with time. Scientists anticipate that climate-related threats will claim a quarter of a million additional lives every year between 2030 and 2050, and that the occurrence of zoonotic disease will continue to increase.

The urgency of this moment demands a collective and unified position from African leaders. The time for action is now.

We urge African leaders to seize the opportunity at the African Climate Summit, to commit to a unified and comprehensive financing agenda to scale up intersecting climate and pandemic efforts, build resilient systems, prevent outbreaks, and adequately respond to threats.

Build resilient systems: When we invest in strong climate-and pandemic-resilient health systems we are able to detect, alert, and contain emerging public health threats. Yet, less than 0.5% of global multilateral climate adaptation funding targets the health sector.

African leaders must call for the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, other multilateral development banks, and development finance institutions to evolve and prioritize joint new investments in climate- and pandemic-resilient health systems where they are needed the most.

Prevent outbreaks from happening: The COVID pandemic has claimed more than 24 million lives, cost the global economy tens of trillions of dollars, and triggered the biggest setbacks in a generation to reducing global poverty, inequality, and achieving global development goals.

To prevent another crisis of this magnitude from happening again we must invest in preventing outbreaks at the source.

Leaders must take a unified position and commit to comprehensive action that addresses upstream drivers of virus spillover and enables early detection of outbreaks in humans, domestic animals, and wildlife.

climate activists

Climate activists hold placards and chant slogans as they take part in a march in Nairobi on September 4, 2023. The activists from various nationalities urged delegates attending the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi to engage actively in discussions to expedite the phase-out of fossil fuels.

Photo credit: Suleiman Mbatiah | AFP

For African leaders, this can look like aligning National Action Plans for Health Security (NAPHS) with National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), calling for global leadership to fully and sustainably capitalize the Pandemic Fund and Green Climate Fund as leading, fit-for-purpose grant facilities that incentivize co-financing from public and private sectors.

Respond to threats: Most response efforts today take a “wait-and-see” approach, with leaders only taking action once a threat has been identified.

Instead, if African leaders prioritize disease surveillance mechanisms that integrate clinical, epidemiological, and genomic data — including weather patterns, wastewater surveillance, consumer behaviour, social media, and even mobility — we can have a more complete and predictive picture on climate and health.

These new investments must leave a legacy of strong and resilient primary health care systems that protect essential health services in a crisis and advance Universal Health Coverage. On a national and regional level, leaders can integrate national action plans for health security with their climate change adaptation and biodiversity action plans.

The African continent is home to 55 countries and more than one billion people who bring a wide array of interests and priorities to the negotiating table. This presents a challenge — but one that is worth overcoming in order to frame conversations at the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit, COP28, and beyond.

We urge leaders at the Africa Climate Summit to seize this opportunity to present a collective and unified position that supports investment at scale to mitigate the impacts of climate and pandemic crises, build resilient systems, prevent outbreaks, and respond to threats.

The world has the tools it needs to create climate- and pandemic-resilient systems. What we need now, is equitable access to those tools for the world's most vulnerable countries and bold unified leadership that is committed to building a more resilient future.

Aluso is the director, Africa region, Pandemic Action Network, and Dr Githinji, is Group CEO, Amref Health Africa