Walker and WHO working towards an integrated health and climate information system for improved readiness

Friday, April 7, 2017

By Didacus B. Namanya

This blog tackles the climate change and health nexus in the context of identifying the relevant metrics and developing a toolkit for guiding health systems to improve their readiness/response to climate related impacts. Climate change readiness may include innovative and practical ways through which a system is prepared to respond to the climate change challenge.

In the public health perspective, climate change readiness inevitably requires the acquisition, storage, analysis and timely dissemination and utilization of climate information; which must be adequately integrated with health information systems (HIS) to act as a basis of informed climate smart decision-making at various levels of the health care system. However, climate information is a core function of the environment sector mandated to hydrometeorology professionals. This raises a legitimate question; “ how can relevant climate and health information be shared between the health and climate sectors to create readiness with appropriate response measures?”

To answer this question requires that the health sector(s) must find sustainable ways of collaborating with climate information services (CIS) and other sectors in order to strengthen health system readiness/preparedness thereby creating a climate-smart health system that are ready to face the impacts posed by a changing climate. Doing this underpins Sustainable Development Goal 13 or Climate Action.

Against the above backdrop, our group led by Rosalind Cornforth, and comprising of Mackenzie Dove, Tiwonge Manda, Celia Petty, and myself, Didacus Namanya visited Malawi (Blantyre, Zomba and Lilongwe), under the auspices of the World Health Organisation.

The team worked along the meetings held between 14th to 22nd March 2017 on climate change and health communication, development of the health national adaptation plan (H-NAP) and the last one on Integrated Disease Surveillance (IDSR) to conduct key informant interviews (KIIs) using a standard structured questionnaire. In addition, other government and development partner key informants were identified and interviewed. In all up # KIIs were completed and focused group discussions were conducted.

 

My unique contribution on this task lay in sharing expertise on climate and health systems, integrated disease surveillance, and climate change policy development and implementation. I have been a Senior Health Geographer for over 15 years, and a focal point of contact for climate change and health systems adaption/resilience in the Ministry of Health in Uganda.

In Malawi, I participated in administering key questionnaires in Malawi to evaluate readiness assessment capacity and identify the specific data/metrics required for the development and testing of the Toolkit. I also participated in the initial, desk-based development of the Toolkit and established preliminary analysis methodology for the co-design process.

Climate data and health information exist in well-kept datasets throughout Malawi and while there is an established structure of collecting this data from grassroots to national level, there is no formal integration of HIS/CIS (with the exception of the Met sharing forecasts, especially of heavy rains and flooding to help the health sector prepare for disease outbreaks).

From the key informant interviews and group discussions in Malawi with officials from the health and environment/climate sectors it is very clear that the climate health nexus potential in terms of exploiting the common grounds for forecasting, developing early warning systems (EWS), and improving dissemination to facilitate better decision making is still not adequately tapped. The development of the CIS/HIS Readiness Toolkit is a unique opportunity to fill this gap.