May 20, 2022

Climate change will lead to more pregnant women and newborns dying. The global health community can limit its impact.

Ministries of health are increasingly aware that a changing environment, particularly through extreme heat, will lead to more maternal and neonatal deaths. However, there is a lack of understanding about how to adapt. Here’s where to start.

The climate crisis is making already high and unequal rates of maternal and newborn deaths worse. An opinion piece recently published in the Journal of Climate Change and Health lays out how the climate crisis is exacerbating existing inequities pregnant people and infants face between and within countries.

The biology of pregnancy creates specific vulnerability to climate change. Research has linked severe heat, wildfire smoke, flooding, and extreme weather events to higher rates of maternal and newborn mortality. Due to physiological changes experienced, pregnant women can be more at risk of heat-related illness compared to non-pregnant women. Newborns whose mothers were exposed to extreme heat during pregnancy are at increased risk of stillbirth, preterm birth, and low birth weight.

Pregnant women and newborns living in marginalized communities around the world are particularly at risk, often living in conditions that offer only limited protection against extreme heat and adverse weather events.

CHAI found there to be a relatively high degree of recognition of these growing challenges among our government partners. However there is a lack of awareness of practical measures to respond. For many stakeholders the scale of the climate change challenge may feel almost insurmountable.

The authors of the article believe that actions can and must be taken now to start adapting to the changing environment. They call on governments and global health organizations to prioritize maternal and newborn health in climate change response plans. While more research is urgently needed to understand impacts and offer solutions, the authors propose policy and health service delivery measures that can be taken immediately to reinforce and support wider efforts to improve maternal and newborn health.

Read the article

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