Worsening Healthcare: What’s Needed

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

June 30, 2024

Climate change is having devastating consequences for economies, impacting the natural environment and people in many different ways. According to research from the WHO, more than 3 billion people already live in areas highly prone to climate change. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year due to undernutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress alone. As climate change intensifies, climate events will become more frequent and severe, affecting health both directly and indirectly. This will increase the risk of deaths, noncommunicable diseases, the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, and health emergencies.

Climate change and environmental degradation are affecting growing conditions and harvests for many crops, leading to food shortages and failed harvests. By 2050, if the global community fails to act to mitigate and prevent the adverse effects of climate change, the risk of hunger and malnutrition could rise by 20%.

Vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue have significantly intensified. Changes in temperature, humidity, and rainfall influence the behavior and survival of the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito. In 2022, catastrophic flooding in Pakistan led to a five-fold increase in malaria cases in the country. The response to such diseases has also been hindered by disruptions caused by COVID-19, with global malaria cases in 2022 exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

Noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, account for about three-quarters of deaths globally each year. Increased heatwaves are leading to more instances of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, while air pollution is causing a rise in heart diseases and lung cancer. Furthermore, climate change is undermining many social determinants of good health, such as livelihoods, equality, and access to healthcare and social support structures. These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by people who contribute the least to its causes and are least able to protect themselves and their families—people in low-income and disadvantaged countries and communities.

It is not just physical health that is affected by climate change; mental health is also impacted. Increasing temperatures are likely to raise rates of aggression and violent suicides, while prolonged droughts can lead to impaired mental health and stress.

Efforts by India and Greece

The Indian government has been implementing the National Health Mission to enhance the overall health and nutrition status of the country. This initiative aims to address the healthcare needs of underserved rural areas and specific urban centers, focusing on improving healthcare infrastructure, workforce capacity, and the delivery of quality and affordable healthcare services for all Indians. In addition, India launched the Ayushman Bharat – Health & Wellness Centers (AB-HWCs) program in 2018, with a budget of INR 1,200 crore (US$ 144.48 million). AB-HWCs introduce multiple reforms, covering service delivery, human resources, financing, access to essential medicines and diagnostics, community participation, and governance.

Similarly, WHO Europe is collaborating with the Greek government on the HEALTH-IQ project to restructure Greece’s health system. This initiative emphasizes patient-centered services across various healthcare settings, including primary care, hospital care, long-term care, access to public health services, and prevention measures for noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and chronic respiratory diseases, as well as mental health. The project aims to enhance healthcare quality through patient feedback, cost-effective health systems, and equitable access to services.

The upcoming Horasis India Meeting 2024 will touch upon other crucial subjects that will dictate India’s growing relations with Greece and areas that both countries can work together to enable mutual growth. 

Both India and Greece can tap and leverage on a lot of opportunities in the areas of pharma, life sciences, and medical tourism. India is both the largest vaccine producer and manufacturer and exporter of generic medicines. India can help control the increasing healthcare costs of Greece as the country is heavily dependent on pharma products from other countries. R&D infrastructure is another viable area where both countries can collaborate.

What Is Needed More?

Tackling global malnutrition requires leveraging both knowledge and nature-based solutions to promote the production of diverse foods and increase access to ecologically and culturally appropriate options. Addressing undernutrition can also be achieved through food fortification methods, which offer a way to produce highly nutritious food with a low carbon footprint. Shifting towards sustainable, healthy diets could significantly reduce health and climate change costs by up to $1.3 trillion.

The fight against vector-borne diseases like malaria demands increased resources, strengthened political commitment, data-driven strategies, and innovative tools. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, emphasizes that a concerted effort fostering innovation, resource mobilization, and collaborative strategies is essential to move towards a malaria-free future.

Well-designed climate mitigation measures can lead to substantial improvements in public health. For instance, ensuring clean energy and transport will reduce air pollution, while policies promoting walking and biking may help reduce weight and lower blood pressure. Encouraging the production and consumption of healthy, locally produced fresh foods, particularly plant-based options, and discouraging excessive red meat consumption, can lower greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and result in healthier diets. Additionally, integrating trees and shrubs with crops can increase crop resilience to droughts and excessive rainfall, reduce CO2 emissions, and improve health.

Governments must also develop adaptation measures to address the challenges posed by global warming. This includes providing adequate treatment facilities for managing mental health issues, especially those related to natural disasters when vulnerability to stress is acute. Promoting positive mental health is crucial to mitigating the psychological distress caused by climate change. Human resilience and effective coping mechanisms can significantly reduce the impact of mental health stress due to climate change.

The intersection of climate change and health is a complex and urgent issue that requires immediate and sustained action. The challenges are immense, but so too are the opportunities for improvement. By integrating climate action into all aspects of healthcare and policy, we can not only mitigate the worst impacts of climate change but also unlock new opportunities for improving global health.

Photo Caption: A new hospital being constructed in the Indian state of Punjab.