Climate change was in the spotlight as world leaders and experts met during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, last week.
“We are all dying from climate change,” Dr. Vanessa Kerry, the WHO special envoy for climate change and health told Devex. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres put it more forcefully, when he said “humanity has opened the gates to hell”.
The events of the past year have proved beyond a doubt that we face a global, climate-driven crisis. The countries hardest hit did the least to create the problem.
Malawi, for example, just last month contained a year-and-a-half long cholera outbreak—the longest in history—that was sparked and spurred by extreme weather events.
Yet, while climate change ultimately manifests as health impact, only two percent of all climate funding goes to health. The intersection of climate and health came up repeatedly at the three health-related high-level UNGA meetings, on the mainstage at the Clinton Global Initiative, and at countless side events.
1. The climate crisis is a health crisis
“Now is not the time to sunset global financing for global health, but instead to learn from one of the greatest accomplishments of humankind and double down.”
-Dr. Neil Buddy Shah, CHAI
CEO Dr. Neil Buddy Shah connected those dots repeatedly last week. During the Foreign Policy Health Forum on Wednesday, he echoed a call to action he had shared earlier, during CGI.
Namely, that while the global development space is seeing many competing priorities for investment, the climate crisis is, at its heart, a health crisis—and now is not the time to sunset global financing for health, but to double down.
2. Children left behind in global HIV response
“You can’t say we’ve [saved] 30 million, let the nine million die. All lives matter and children, LGBTQ+ people, girls and women—especially in Africa, are most at risk. We are failing them.”
-Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS
The week started with a call to action from the CGI stage where UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima sat down with Chelsea Clinton to highlight the fact that children and other vulnerable groups continue to be left behind in the global HIV response.
Almost two million children live with HIV globally, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Of these children, less than half receive the treatment they need to survive. Both Byanyima and Clinton called for renewed commitment and investment to continue the fight against AIDs started more than 20 years ago.
Calling HIV a “disease of injustice”, Byanyima encouraged countries to follow the science and donors to continue investing in prevention, testing, and treatment programs to close the gaps in access to care that exist for so many people.
3. Disability inclusion in healthcare
“I stand before you today, figuratively of course, as proof that indeed there is no contradiction between being disabled and productive, being disabled and valuable, and dare I say, being disabled and fabulous.”
-Eddie Ndopu, human rights activist
Eddie Ndopu, a human rights activist from South Africa, shared his story of “grit and resilience” on stage at CGI. Doctors told Ndopu’s mother he would not live past the age of five, and if he did, he would never be able to lead a dignified life. Ndopu proved them wrong, but he made clear that while grit got him through—it is an “insufficient corrective for institutional and equitable change.”
In a world where 1.3 billion people live with a disability, too many do not have access to the support they need to thrive. At CHAI, we know that assistive products, like wheelchairs or eyeglasses, can make a huge difference for someone living with a disability—especially if they can receive that product in early childhood.
On the heels of new research identifying major gaps in disability health data, we joined partners at CGI, including the Missing Billion Initiative, to announce a plan to accelerate disability inclusion in health systems globally.
Together with EYElliance, we also announced plans to work with partner governments to strengthen and replicate government-led school eye health programs in countries in Africa and South East Asia.
These commitments to action, announced at CGI, are part of CHAI’s broader strategy to drive better access to assistive technologies in low- and middle-income countries.
Other notable moments
- At the UN high-level meeting on universal health coverage, Unitaid CEO Dr. Philippe Duneton underscored the urgent need to invest in therapeutics, like medical oxygen, to prepare for the next pandemic.
- This followed a call to action ahead of UNGA 78 by over 20 global health agencies, including CHAI, demanding governments, donors, and partners address chronic shortages of oxygen in low- and middle-income countries.
- Sepsis accounts for almost 20 percent of all deaths globally, and almost half all cases occur in children. PEPFAR’s John Nkengasong gave the keynote speech at the only side event dedicated to the topic.
- UNGA Week brought a number of new commitments for the global TB response. The Stop TB Partnership outlines the commitments.