By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
THE Ministry of Health and Wellness in an effort to address climate change has developed a project set to improve climate resilience in the country’s health system.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Philip Swann made the announcement yesterday at a press conference hosted by the ministry. He said the project is a team effort.
“In an effort to coordinate the Caribbean region’s response to climate change, the ‘Developing a Climate Resilient Health System in The Bahamas’ project was developed,” Dr Swann said. “This project is designed to improve the climate resilience of the health systems in countries.
“The ‘Developing a Climate Resilient Health System in The Bahamas’ project is a team effort between the government of The Bahamas and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs).
“The organisations in The Bahamas identified to execute the projects are the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources. “This duet of ministries form the National Designated Authority (NDA). The Green Climate Fund is a primary source of funding for this project.”
He said despite challenges more recently with responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Bahamas is still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian, a Category Five hurricane which hit parts of the country on September 1, 2019.
Dorian caused flooding and unprecedented destruction in Abaco and Grand Bahama.
In March, 2020, the COVID-19 virus was detected in The Bahamas.
“This pandemic laid bare a number of deficiencies in the health system infrastructure – both from a technological and physical standpoint,” Dr Swann continued. “It threatened our ability to continue to deliver routine health services to the Bahamian public.
“With the persisting waves of the pandemic, The Bahamas, like many of our sister Caribbean countries, found ourselves having to prepare and mitigate against a potential hurricane landfall amid a COVID-19 pandemic. As we revised our response patterns, guidelines for shelters and other policies several truths were evident.
There is the urgent need to strengthen linkages and the need to build human, technical, physical and policy capacity that will address climate change and health issues in The Bahamas.”
Dr Philippe said an early assessment identifies deficits in the following areas: climate change and health policy, climate change technical expertise in the health workforce, community/civil society engagement, climate-resilient health infrastructure, data collection, information and technology, and financing for climate change and health issues.
He said the NDA was created to work toward strengthening the country’s capacity to strategically respond to and close the aforementioned gaps.
“Specifically, this particular effort of enhancing climate resiliency through the Developing a Climate Resilient Health System project in The Bahamas will assist The Bahamas to strengthen our national organisations with human resources and technical knowledge to prepare, coordinate and respond to climate change and health matters,” Dr Philippe said.
“The first action is to explore what is meant by and how The Bahamas will incorporate the idea of climate SMART health through the creation of policies and systems that promote climate-resilient health care.
“The second action is to enhance the effectiveness and alignment of surveillance systems that provide information on matters that impact the public’s health.”
He said this includes strengthening communication mechanisms across governmental, private and civil society agencies and building human capacity, and improving on technical and physical infrastructures to collectively and efficiently mitigate and respond to climate change effects.
Dr Calae Philippe, senior medical officer at the Ministry of Health, said the Pan American Health Organization is working with the Ministry of Health on a full national adaptation plan to reduce conductors of climate change.
“Our partner, the Pan American Health Organization, is working with us because PAHO has a climate change and health programme which aims to repair health systems through early warning and the implementation of prevention and adaptation,” Dr Philippe said.
“We are working with PAHO to develop the first health national adaptation plan. This plan will allow (countries) to reduce the emission of gases that cause climate change within the health sector and other sectors.”
In her presentation, she laid out some key facts with regards to climate change and pointed out that it is not to be seen only as a future problem, as the world is being affected now.
“Here are some key facts. Climate change is not only a problem for future generations. It’s already happening,” Dr Philippe said. “Higher temperatures are recorded each year and more people are being affected by disasters, climate sensitive diseases and other health conditions.
“Climate change also exacerbates some existing health threats and creates new public health challenges. Worldwide, only considering a few health indicators, 250,000 deaths per year will occur in the next decade as a result of climate change.”
She noted the role that the health sector has to play in terms of climate change. She also gave some international statistics.
“The health sector has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are the cause of climate change: investments in greening healthcare facilities, such as the use of solar panels, energy efficient equipment and waste management must be made,” Dr Philippe said.
“Globally, only about 0.5 percent of multi-climate finance has been attributed to health projects and we hope to increase that in The Bahamas. Health facilities also need to be safe and remain operational during and soon after disasters. In the Americas, 67 percent of health facilities are located at risk of disasters.”
Rising sea levels are expected to cause coastal erosion due to climate change. According to NASA, the sea level is expected to increase by one to four feet by 2050.
The Bahamas is expected to be one of the most affected countries because at least 80 percent of the total land is below sea level.
Dr Philippe said, “In The Bahamas most of our facilities are near the coastline and that makes a great impact. In the last decade 24 million people were left without access to healthcare for many months because of damaged infrastructure and we’ve seen that happen in The Bahamas as well.”