Health and environment: shaping a better future together in Africa

Shaping a better future together in Africa was discussed in the context of identifying emerging environmental threats to people’s health at the the Third Inter-ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Libreville, Gabon, this month. African Ministers of health and environment met to agree on a strategic action plan for the region at this conference which was jointly organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Environment.

environmental externalities

According to UNEP, 23% of deaths in Africa are linked to the environment. This is the highest for any region in the world on a per capita basis (deaths per 100 000). While the continent has long been plagued by problems relating to access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor infrastructure, pollution, new environmental threats have emerged, including climate change and rapid and unplanned urbanization.

“From the air we breathe to the water we drink, to the places we live and work the environment is intimately linked to our health,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa. “Unfortunately for millions of Africans, the environment can make them sick and even kill them. With climate change this is likely to only get worse. We must urgently turn this situation around.”

Nearly 300 delegates including Health, Environment and Finance Ministers, as well as representatives from regional political and economic organizations, big cities, multilateral agencies and experts from 54 countries in Africa participated in the Conference.

The conference comes a decade after the historic endorsement of the Libreville Declaration by the African Ministers of Health and Environment which committed governments to take the required measures to stimulate synergies between health, environment and other relevant sectors. It also comes ahead of the 2018 UN Biodiversity Conference to be held on African soil in Egypt this month and discussed how to mainstream biodiversity into health sector, among other sectors.

“Tackling the interlinkages between environment and human health can provide a common platform and multiplier effect to sustain progress across many of the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063 in a more cost-effective and beneficial manner,” said Dr. Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, UN Environment, Africa Office.

“By working together, the health and environment sectors have the potential to design mutually reinforcing policies and strategies and turning them into concrete actions,” she added.

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