Experts at the ongoing Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC 2023) have predicted that malaria and cholera will prominently feature in diseases brought about by climate change.
Speaking during the official opening of the conference in Kigali, Rwanda, Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, the acting director of Africa CDC, said the effects of climate change are critical contributing factors to many of the health emergencies in the continent.
“Disasters such as flooding, drought or other extreme weather patterns have contributed to poorer health outcomes due to disruptions in health services, thus reemergence of these diseases,” he said.
According to Dr Gitahi Githinji, CEO, Amref Health Africa, water shortages due to drought as well as floods which have disrupted water systems in various parts of the continent have also contributed to an increase in cholera cases.
Currently, Africa is facing extreme weather patterns with the Horn of Africa experiencing one of the worst droughts in nearly four decades.
One of the most affected countries right now is Malawi, which has over 40,000 confirmed cholera cases and nearly 1,500 deaths since the outbreak was first declared in March 2022.
“While epidemics typically start in the rainy season, last year the epidemic began in the dry season. The arrival of the rains only accelerated the spread of the waterborne contagion,” notes Dr Alinafe Kasiya, Malawi Country Director, VillageReach - a non-profit global health innovator that develops, tests, implements and scales new solutions to critical health system challenges in low-resource environments.
In Kenya, as of Jan 2023, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) had confirmed a cholera outbreak across 12 counties.
On the other hand, there are estimated 3.5 million new clinical malaria cases in the country, with over 10,700 deaths recorded annually.
Globally, WHO estimates that over 400,000 people die each year from the disease.
According to Dr Githinji, climate change is one of the greatest threats to health systems in the continent.
“Climate change is associated with health effects which include increased respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases,” he said.
To address this crisis, Dr Adelheid Onyango, the Director of Universal Health Coverage, WHO AFRO, said African governments have to integrate risk management and early warning systems.
“Governments should closely work with communities to find climate mitigation and adaptation solutions before focusing on complex technological remedies,” said Dr Onyango.
Rwanda has already made key strides in efforts to combat climate change.
In 2016, the country introduced the Kigali Car Free Day, which takes place every first and third Sunday of the month, as part of efforts to make Kigali a green city and strengthen efforts to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs).