Washington, D.C. – The Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr Carissa F. Etienne urged countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean, to consider policies and interventions that focus on equity in public health.
Etienne made the plea against the backdrop of environmental risks such as air pollution, inadequate sanitation, and extreme weather events being responsible for around one million premature deaths across the Americas.
The PAHO director said that those living in poverty, in precarious housing conditions and indigenous peoples are at greater risk due to more severe weather events, and are more likely to lack the capacity for mitigation of environmental or health risks.
“Make no mistake about this, climate change can derail the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and universal health,” she said on Thursday during a World Health Day event organised by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HSS).
Etienne said not only can extreme weather events increase the prevalence of disease and cause injury and death, but the changing climate can also affect health due to food and water insecurity, migration, and mental health impact.
The PAHO director said a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach was needed to address the issues around climate change and health equity.
“We need to ensure that initiatives, policies and interventions are people-centered, reaching all, regardless of where they reside,” she said.
As the Americas start the long road to recovery from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Etienne called for countries to reflect on the “millions of people who have been left behind” due to lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“We must take extraordinary efforts to ensure that the weakest and most vulnerable are not left behind or left off the climate change and health agenda,” she said.
World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948.
The theme for 2022 is “Our planet, our health”, and aims to raise awareness of the link between health and environmental challenges, such as climate change.