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WHO agreed on a research agenda on climate change and public health

News release

8 October 2008 | MADRID/GENEVA -- A meeting of experts convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Madrid agreed today to a research agenda to develop an evidence-based framework for action on the human health implications of climate change. The plan builds on a comprehensive review of what is already known about health risks from climate change. It was developed by WHO with more than 80 top researchers on climate change and health along with representatives of donor and other UN agencies. The meeting took place 6-8 October and hosted by the Ministry of Health of Spain.

"Many agencies, including WHO, have highlighted the health dangers of climate change" said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO's Director-General. "Our 193 Member States asked WHO to help them strengthen the evidence base for policy action. This plan provides the framework for doing just that. It sets out guidance to governments, research institutions and donors looking to fill crucial knowledge gaps."

In the last decade, even though climate change has been increasingly acknowledged as an important risk to human well-being, its effects on health have received little research attention. Scientific papers describing the links between climate change and health are outnumbered by those on air pollution by almost 8 times, and by those on smoking by almost 40 times.

The plan aims to speed-up, focus and intensify climate change and health research to strengthen the evidence base for discussion at the 15th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP15), to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009, where world leaders will forge a new global climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

The research plan identifies five priority research areas; including,

  • Interactions with other health determinants and trends - Climate change does not act in a vacuum. There is an urgent need for a better understanding of how climate change does and will interact with other important health determinants and trends, such as economic development, globalization, urbanization, and inequities both in exposure to health risks and access to care.
  • Direct and indirect effects - Much is known of short-term health impacts of climate change. There is a need for better characterization of the effects of long-term changes such as increasing drought, decline in freshwater resources, and population displacement, ranging from mental health impacts to risks of conflict, with a particular focus on children and other vulnerable groups.
  • Comparing effectiveness of short-term interventions - Different countries have taken a variety of approaches to deal with climate change-related health threats such as heatwaves and floods. Comparative outcome assessments can help rank effectiveness of interventions.
  • Assessing health impact of policies of non-health sectors - There is an urgent need for rapid assessment of the health implications of specific climate change prevention (mitigation) and adaptation policies in other sectors, such as the potentially negative effect of promotion of biofuels on food security and malnutrition; and the potentially positive health effects of sustainable energy and transport policies.
  • Strengthening public health systems to address health effects of climate change. Most health systems interventions to deal with climate change build on basic public health competencies. More knowledge is needed to identify the most effective means of implementing integrated preventive public health strategies that reduce not just climate change related threats but all environmental health risks.

“This meeting has made clear that there is a need to enhance our evidence base on ways to protect health from climate change”, said Dr. Bernat Soria, Spain's Minister of Health and Consumption,: " We welcome this plan which sets out a clear research agenda and addresses all countries needs for evidence-based policy making" he added.

For more information please contact:

Nada Osseiran
Advocacy & Communications Officer
Public Health & Environment Dept
WHO Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 4475
E-mail: osseirann@who.int

Sari Setiogi
Media Relations Officer
Health Security and Environment
WHO Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3576
Mobile: +41 79 701 9467
Fax: +41 22 791 4721
E-mail: setiogis@who.int

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