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NEWS / Pacific Island Countries: WHO report links plethora of human health risks to climate change
Category: Health & Pharmaceuticals, Latest News

Image: Trainee nurse Tekanrati Tito at South Tarawa Hospital, Kiribati 2007. Photo: Lorrie Graham by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
by Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Small Pacific Island states are amongst the most climate-vulnerable countries on Earth. Usually, when talking about their vulnerability to climate change, the focus is on sea level rise and extreme weather events. However, a new WHO report “Human Health and Climate Change in Pacific Island Countries” puts the spotlight on climate-related health risks and shows the array of devastating effects they can have on the local population.

In 2009, Pacific island health ministers signed the Madang Commitment agreeing to take action regarding climate change and related health risks. Part of this commitment was the assessment of health vulnerability due to climate change in order to develop appropriate adaptation responses for the health sector. The results of the assessment are outlined in the WHO report which was produced in collaboration with Pacific island country health ministries. The report involves the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The study identifies and prioritises climate-sensitive health risks to the region. 4 indirect and direct risks stand out:

1) Water security and safety (including waterborne diseases),

2) Vector-borne diseases (i. e. diseases transmitted by e.g. mosquitoes; for example, dengue fever or malaria),

3) Food security and safety (including malnutrition and foodborne diseases) and

4) Health impacts of extreme weather events.

Diffuse effects include, amongst many others, cardiovascular problems due to obesity as a result of reduced local harvests and an increasing reliance on imported processed food products, but also mental health issues like PTSD following droughts, floods or other extreme events. Identifying the most pressing climate-related health risks led to a prioritisation of appropriate adaptation strategies, which were added to the National Climate Change and Health Action Plans of each country.

Governmental and nongovernmental organisations, technical agencies, and others might benefit from the strategic framework to consolidate health adaptation outlined in the report. The report also highlights ten priority action areas that it considers essential for building climate resilient health systems. These broad areas include ‘governance and policy’; ‘integrated risk monitoring and early warning’; and ‘financing’ highlighting the cross-cutting nature and complexity of adaptation and resilience building.


The full report can be downloaded here