Day 5 at COP19- Adaptation and the Limitations of Health

‘Adaptation: the real challenges are those we face in putting these strategies in place’

Health remained a prominent subject today as the US Centre and WHO co-hosted an event on Health Adaptation. Attendants gained an understanding of the challenges of adapting health systems to a changing climate. With representatives from the World Health Organization headquarters and regions including Africa, South America and Europe, panelists outlined the implementation of measures that they’re co-developing to safeguard from the threat of climate change to health.

Dr Bagayako, of WHO Africa, outlined successes in development of national adaptation strategies in 43 African states. Although positive, and with the exception of promising early warning systems for Malaria, he was keen to point out that the real challenges to be faced are those to be encountered in putting these strategies in place. Bagayako was clear to state that, although plans exist, complete conversion into effective ground level implementation has yet to take place.

 During questions, Robin Stott, of the UK Climate and Health Council, sought accountability for the Health Lobby’s failure to leverage an effective strategy on mitigation.  It was clear that Stott harboured a common frustration within the FCCC, believing in the responsibility of health professionals, as carers to the population, to bring about an effective halt to rising temperatures.  His question,  ‘could the panel offer comment on why  health arguments have been so dismally ineffective in driving mitigation?  Why have we failed to achieve any progress on this issue at all?’

Both of these commentators, and education on issues surrounding these plans, remind us of the true challenges we face in realizing these goals. At the very least, and at merely the tip of the iceberg of what is required  here, is an unprecedented shift in global policy and implementation. As future health professionals, we should not underestimate the scale of adapting our systems to accommodate the incoming burden of climate change on health.  Broadly, adaptation actually represents a success in the lobby and demonstrates the power of health to achieve deliverable solutions. The failures of mitigation and conversion of adaptation  into implementation pale into insignificance in comparison to the broader failures of climate change.  What both Bagayako and Stott are referencing is a call for awareness of the limitations we face in leveraging health. Perhaps if we’re aware of what we cannot do, and of the strategies that have has failed us so far, we may have the capability to seek alternative frameworks to those that have failed us in the past.

Elsewhere , IFMSA delegates focused their efforts on preparing for the upcoming Global Climate and Health Summit this weekend. Throughout the conference, promotion of the event, and of the general importance of climate change and health, has been high on our delegates’ agendas. You can find more about the summit at

From left to right: Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum (WHO), M. Bagayako (WHO Africa), Dr John Balbus MD (US Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)
From left to right: Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum (WHO), M. Bagayako (WHO Africa), Dr John Balbus MD (US Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)

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