By; MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos
An authority of World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed out how emerging evidence suggests that air pollution and heat contribute to poor reproductive health outcomes.
According to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, air pollution and heat affect reproductive health negatively due to their impacts on cellular physiology and organ response.
Moeti made the disclosure in a message she released on 8th March 2022.
She said, “Potential consequences include infertility, intrauterine growth retardation, low birth weight, perinatal mortality, pre-term delivery and associated pregnancy complications.”
The WHO chief stressed that disruptions due to drought, floods, conflicts over natural resources and forced migration are an added concern.
Moeti noted that indirectly, environmental degradation and changing climate patterns raise the risk for the emergence and re-emergence of diseases such as Dengue fever, Chikugunya and the Zika viruses, and for exacerbating the spread of water- and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, cholera and schistosomiasis – all of which disproportionately affect children and women, especially pregnant women.
She declared that inadequate access to water can impede agricultural production, with significant potential risks for food security and consequent nutritional deficiencies and anaemia among women and girls, because of their unique nutritional needs.
“Women and girls are also at higher risk for sexual violence, sexual exploitation, abuse, trafficking and intimate partner violence, along with psychological stress, anxiety and depression in response to displacements as a result of climate change events, she elaborated.
“To address the challenges, gender-responsive action is needed, along with equitable development that recognizes and addresses the particular vulnerability of women and girls to the consequences of climate change,” the WHO regional director for Africa emphasized.
In the message she issued on International Women’s Day, Moeti stated that it is also important to harness the power of women to effect change at community level, and in the development of policy instruments and national climate response plans.
“Women’s organizations must be prioritized to receive the necessary financial and technological support to make a meaningful contribution to addressing the threat, while access to land for women farmers should be assured to build food security and equitable land ownership,” she recommended.
In opinion, addressing the health impacts of climate change requires innovative thinking and a more holistic, population-based public health approach.
“As WHO, we are providing guidance and technical support to governments to ensure that health and environmental responses, including climate change strategies, are integrated, equitable and just.
“In the African Region, 19 Member States have been supported to assess the capability of their health sectors to withstand the threats posed by climate change, and the same number have committed to the COP26 Health Programme for sustainable, low-carbon health systems. In addition, 22 Members States have developed national health adaptation plans,” she clarified.
Moeti highlighted that there is still much work to be done, stressing: “as we mark International Women’s Day this year, I urge all stakeholders, from governments and partners to civil society and ordinary citizens, to support country-driven and gender-sensitive approaches to mitigating the impacts of climate change, especially on our vulnerable women and girls.
“In closing, let us all remember that overcoming these inequities will result in better health, development and prosperity for all.”