Local healthcare sector can be leader in new climate change reality


WHEN we think of climate change, the resilience of our health system and its facilities may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, it is one of the most critical aspects of ensuring that the Bahamas is able to adapt to the inevitable changes that climate change will bring.

The health sector has an opportunity to be a leader in the push for adaptation to climate change, according to Brittney Jones, Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/ WHO) Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Health and Climate Change and Health Focal Point Consultant. The PAHO/WHO Country Office is working towards ensuring that the Bahamas has the tools and technical guidance it needs to support adaptations to its health system, and services for the benefit of its residents.

Climate change is one of the biggest global health threats of the 21st century, according to PAHO/ WHO. Healthcare facilities need to be safe and remain operational during and immediately after disasters. Current lessons from Hurricane Dorian are poignant reminders of the dire need for health facilities that are prepared for climate change.

“The health sector has an opportunity to be a leader in the charge of climate action by strengthening plans and implementing prevention and adaptation strategies,” Ms Jones said.

“Climate change intensifies some existing health threats and is therefore an urgent public health concern.”

PAHO/WHO’s Climate Change and Health Programme notes that the health sector will continue to be affected by the changing climate through direct impacts, including heat waves, droughts, heavy storms, and sea-level rise. The Bahamas is one of the most vulnerable countries to sea-level rise. Analyst T Oneil Johnson Jr warns that the Bahamas is at risk of losing 80 percent of its landmass in the next eight decades with the current pace of global warming. There are also indirect impacts to the health sector, including vector-borne and respiratory diseases, food and water insecurity, undernutrition, and forced displacements.

Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis pointed to the vulnerability of the Bahamas when he addressed COP 26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) a few weeks ago: “We in the Bahamas will do what we can, but the limits of what our nation’s effort can accomplish are stark: we cannot out-run your carbon emissions, we cannot out-run the hurricanes which are growing more powerful and we cannot out-run rising sea levels, as our islands disappear beneath the seas.”

Ms Jones points out that coming out of COP 26, the Bahamas has made a formal commitment to building climate resistant health systems.

PAHO/WHO’s Climate Change and Health Programme is supporting the health sector and other sectors to prepare health systems through early warning systems, better planning and the implementation of prevention and adaptation measures, and also by reducing the emissions of gases that cause climate change.

“Although small island developing states like the Bahamas contribute minimally to the global issue of climate change, we are not exempt from our responsibilities to evaluate our carbon emissions and take adaptive and mitigative action,” she said.

“PAHO/WHO is committed to continued partnership with the country to strengthening its capacity to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from the health-related climate impacts.”

PAHO/WHO has established the Agenda for the Americas on Health, Environment, and Climate Change 2021–2030. The Agenda is a call to action to the health sector to lead the charge to address environmental determinants of health in the Americas. PAHO/WHO will work with member states like the Bahamas to achieve its goal and objective to ensure healthy lives. It also seeks to promote well-being for all at all ages using a sustainable and equitable approach that places a priority on reducing health inequity. The Agenda has been developed under the umbrella of the WHO Global Strategy on Health, Environment, and Climate Change, and builds upon the commitments set forth in the Sustainable Health Agenda for the Americas 2018–2030, as well as the PAHO Strategic Plan 2020–2025.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment