Pregnant women, newborns and children face extreme health risks from climate disasters that need urgent attention, according to today’s report.appeal published by United Nations (UN) agencies ahead of the Global Conference of the Parties (COP28) negotiations on climate change in Dubai.
A call to action
According to document entitled “Protecting maternal, newborn and child health from the impacts of climate change” the effects of climate events on maternal and child health have been overlooked, underestimated and underestimated. Unfortunately, very few countries still mention maternal or child health in their climate change response plans.
by Valentina Arcovio
“Climate change poses an existential threat to all of us, but pregnant women, newborns and children face some of the gravest consequences of all,” she said Bruce Aylward, Deputy Director-General for Universal Health Coverage, Life Course at the World Health Organization (WHO). “Children’s futures must be consciously protected, which means taking climate action now for the sake of their health and survival, while ensuring their specific needs are recognized.”
The risks faced by the most vulnerable
The year 2023 has been marked by a series of devastating climate disasters. Wildfires, floods, heatwaves and droughts are displacing people, killing crops and livestock and worsening air pollution. An overheating world is increasing the spread of deadly diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue, with disastrous consequences for pregnant women and children for whom these infections can be particularly serious, the document further states.
Research shows that damage can even begin in the womb, leading to pregnancy-related complications, preterm birth, low birth weight. For children, the consequences can last a lifetime, affecting their body and brain development as they grow.
by Luigi Grassia
Children’s right to health
“Action on climate change often ignores that children’s bodies and minds are particularly vulnerable to pollution, deadly diseases and extreme weather,” he said Omar Abdi, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for Programmes. “We do so at our own risk. The climate crisis is jeopardizing every child’s fundamental right to health and well-being. It is our collective responsibility to listen and put children at the center of urgent climate action, starting with COP28. Now is the time to finally put children on the climate change agenda.”
Seven urgent actions
The call to action highlights seven urgent actions to address these growing risks. These include sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and action on climate finance, as well as specific inclusion of the needs of pregnant women, newborns and children in climate and disaster-related policies. The agencies are also calling for more research to better understand the impacts of climate change on maternal and child health.
“To find climate solutions that recognize the specific health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls we must start by asking the right questions,” she said Diene Keita, Deputy Executive Director for Programs at UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. “Global climate solutions must support – and not sacrifice – gender equality.”
The call to action was launched by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA with the support of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), the world’s largest alliance for the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents , with over 1,400 organizations.
“Climate change is one of the major intergenerational injustices of our time. Safeguarding the health and rights of women, children and adolescents is non-negotiable in the face of the climate crisis,” said the Honorable Helen Clark, Chair of the PMNCH Board of Directors and former Prime Minister of New Zealand. “All stakeholders, from governments to the private sector and civil society, including health workers, play a critical role in supporting policies and actions that protect the most vulnerable. The urgency of mainstreaming the health of women, children and adolescent needs in climate responses is not only a moral imperative, but an effective strategy with long-term benefits for resilient and healthy societies”.