World Health Day 2023: Wary as the nexus between climate change impacts, health becomes apparent

(Last Updated On: 6 April 2023)

Tomorrow, April 7, is World Health Day. The 2023 celebration is under the theme “Health for All”.

This year, World Health Day marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of WHO. In 1948, countries around the world came together to establish the United Nations specialized agency to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable – so that everyone, everywhere can attain the highest level of health and well-being.

However, experts at the African Coalition of Communities Responsive to Climate Change (ACCRCC) strongly hold that health for all is not feasible until the world addresses the issue of climate change.

According to Dr. Rosalid Nkirote, the Executive Advisor at the ACCRCC, the climate crisis is worsening mental disorders in Africa.

“This day is being marked this year when close to 600 people lost their lives in Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar due to Cyclone Freddy which hit southern Africa from February to March,” she said.

Dr. Nkirote said the deaths, destruction, and catastrophe brought about by Cyclone Freddy in southern Africa and the drought in Kenya and other countries in the East and the Horn of Africa have the power to cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an emotional and psychological reaction to trauma with long-term impacts on survivors’ brains and cognitive functioning, besides triggering and or exacerbating already existing mental illnesses.

Points of attention

  • Climate change driving factors that counter health for all
  • Climate change exacerbating mental disorders in Africa
  • Climate change impacts cause displacement, migration, and climate-related conflicts, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and PTSD leading to economic instability, poverty, and food insecurity, which can lead to mental health disorders.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has once again placed the African continent at the center of the climate crisis.

The Sixth Assessment Report during the Panel’s 58th Session held in Interlaken, Switzerland from 13 – 19 March 2023, Climate change has slowed improvements in agricultural productivity in middle and low latitudes, with crop productivity growth shrinking by a third in Africa since 1961.

Read more: Climate experts react to IPCC Report as efforts to limit global temperature rise continues  

Dr. Nkirote, however, said the worse of all is the emerging connection between climate change and mental health. “The impact of climate change on mental health is a growing concern, with studies showing that climate change is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders,” she said.

The WHO says mental health is an area of massive concern across the world. In Kenya and Nigeria for example, the Ministry of Health statistics show that a staggering 1 out of 4 persons who seek healthcare in healthcare facilities have a mental health condition.

In Tanzania, still according to WHO, 5 out of 100,000 people have committed suicide out of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, anger, and drug abuse, yet the overburdened ministries of health in these countries have no specific budget for mental health.

According to Dr. Nkirote, climate change affects the environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems, which, in turn, affects human health. Mental health disorders, she adds are prevalent, with depression and anxiety being the most common.

According to Dr. Nkirote, firstly, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and droughts which result from climate change can cause trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Further, she said rising temperature affects the quality of air, water, and food, which can lead to physical health problems that trigger mental health disorders.

In addition, climate change impacts cause displacement, migration, and conflict, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and PTSD leading to economic instability, poverty, and food insecurity, which can lead to mental health disorders.

Dr. Nkirote urges governments, donors, and the international community to support research and programmatic interventions, policies, and awareness to mitigate the impact of climate change on mental health.

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