Malawi President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera has advised developing countries to come up with both short-term and long-term goals in order to strengthen their preparedness and response mechanisms to climate-related health emergencies.
Chakwera emphasized the need to improve Early Warning Alert and Response Systems; enhancing resilience in healthcare infrastructure; strengthening capacity-building efforts at the community level; and amplifying the voice of children and women in climate action as some of the measures countries can take to achieve their goals.
The Malawi President made the sentiments on Wednesday at the Strategic Dialogue on Health during the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, USA.
“We all know that climate change is no longer a distant threat. But the fact is that the impact of climate change is more pronounced in developing countries like Malawi, which are not sufficiently resilient to climate shocks, especially in the health sector. On the Climate Change Index, Malawi is characterized as one of the most vulnerable nations. Since 1946, Malawi has experienced major droughts and floods, and more than 600 disaster events. From 1980, there has been an increased frequency of extreme weather events and disasters in my country,” said Chakwera.
“For instance, since 2022, Malawi has been hit by Tropical Cyclones Anna, Gombe and Freddy. The latter that hit the country early this year, was the worst ever in the history of the country, causing the most devastating health impacts, apart from other forms of destruction. More than 2.2 million people were directly affected, out of which 659,278 were displaced, 679 were confirmed dead, 537 are still missing and 2,178 were injured.”
President Chakwera therefore called upon developing nations to “must invest in research and surveillance to develop target interventions and policies that address the specific needs of our communities, ensuring that health equity remains at the forefront of our efforts”.
He also urged the countries to work towards transforming their societies and economies to reduce our carbon footprint, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and promote sustainable development.
“This requires transitioning to cleaner energy sources, promoting sustainable agriculture and urban planning, and fostering collaboration between sectors to achieve common goals. But these things must be driven by communities. We cannot expect meaningful change to happen without the active involvement and engagement of communities,” he said, adding that community-driven adaptation is key to ensuring that interventions are context-specific, culturally appropriate, and responsive to the needs and challenges faced by different populations.
“To catalyze community adaptation for health equity, we need to strengthen partnerships and collaboration at all levels, uniting over a common vision and addressing the urgent health challenges posed by climate change,” stressed Chakwera.
He told the delegates that Malawi has already undertaken steps to address the effects of climate changes, citing the development and adoption of contingency plans that include preparedness, response and recovery activities; introduction of climate change in health academia curricula; and installation of solar grids in health facilities in order to reduce carbon emissions and provide alternative energy sources to the grid power.
“We now aim at constructing climate resilient health infrastructure in sites less prone to disasters; we have strengthened existing structures for networking and coordination through a Health and Climate Change Core Team. It is also worth mentioning that my country already conducted a Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment (V&AA) on climate change and human health to form a basis for mitigation measures such as those mentioned above,” said President Chakwera.