Taking stock of health systems in the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change

Edited by Admin
Taking stock of health systems in the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change

As the world begins to recover from the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take good stock and prioritize what is most important for our very own survival: A livable planet and therefore our well-being. On April 7th, the World Health Organization celebrates its 74th anniversary under the theme ‘Our planet, our health’. This theme is inspired, in part, by the pause and reflection that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of us to do. The reality of a fast-developing world includes a more polluted and dangerous earth where more than 90% of the world population does not breathe clean air; where the digital revolution and social media have created more global connectedness but undermined the face-to-face interaction of human beings, and progressively created a lonelier world with depression as a leading disability.

The Uganda Government through the inter-sectoral National Climate Change Policy 2015, and as outlined in the Ministry of Health Strategic plan 2020/21-2024/25 has superbly detailed strategies to meet the challenges of climate change on population health. However, the challenges of the health systems and the continued impact of climate change on population health in Uganda remain prevalent. These range from heavy rains, floods, landslides, and population displacement associated with disease outbreaks to the destruction of health infrastructure. With an increasing carbon footprint, heat-related deaths in the elderly (65+ years) are projected to increase to about 81 deaths per 100,000 by 2080, compared to the estimated baseline of fewer than 2 per 100,000 annually between 1961 and 1990. By 2030, an additional 34,600 people in Uganda will be at risk of flooding annually because of climate change and 21,600 people due to socio-economic change above the estimated 15,500 annually affected population in 2010. Floods not only claim lives directly by drowning but also impact food production, water provision, ecosystem disruption, infectious disease outbreak, and vector distribution. Longer-term effects of flooding may also include post-traumatic stress and population displacement (Uganda Climate and health country profile, 2015; WHO, 2016).

This is a time to take stock of all national development plans and policies to be harmonized to fulfil the vision of a happy and healthy population through the mission of staying the deleterious effects of climate change. Lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic and climate disasters call for well-articulated and implemented goals geared at investing in clean and renewable energy, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Bhutan, Finland, and New Zealand are some of the countries which have placed a high premium on the happiness of their people by realigning their national planning programs to include health and well-being in every public sector.  The WHO anniversary also presents an opportune time to discuss the guaranteed negative environmental impact of the burgeoning oil and gas sector and the need to invest in clean and renewable energies. We can use the revenue from this lucrative trade in the short term to make long term investments in endeavours that promote clean air and a sustainable ecosystem. It seems ironic but it helps us to avoid the short-term curse of dependency on oil and gas exports, which marginalize and kill off other sectors of the economy, while also mitigating the long-term effects of fossil fuel utilization on climate change.

Also noted in the WHO’s 2022 campaign is the fact that three billion people worldwide use smoky stoves for cooking and one billion use kerosene lamps and candles for lighting. Uganda contributes a substantial fraction to this statistic. The effects of this include fire hazards, pneumonia, stroke, heart disease, and cancer and can also affect unborn children. Every year, close to four million people die from being exposed to pollutants in their homes. Together with the increasing cutting down of trees, they contribute to climate change, leading to gradually unstable and extreme weather patterns. In addition, collecting firewood takes away time for education. it has been estimated that more time is spent on these chores by women/girls in sub-Saharan Africa than the time spent at work by the entire labour force of France per year. Solutions suggested including using clean gas and biofuels for cooking, improving rural electrification, designing homes with chimneys, leaving windows open while cooking, and using solar power for lighting and running home appliances.

Uganda is projected to have a population of approximately 105 million people by 2060. This presents many challenges as well as opportunities. There will be an increased demand for social services and physical resources. In this scenario, if we do not address climate change and invest in promotion of health and well-being, alongside inclusive political, economic, and social sectors, we will have failed as a nation.



  1. WHO DAY 2022 Campaign: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2022
  2. Uganda Ministry of Health Strategic plan 2020/21-2024/25
  3. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty 2012 by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

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