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Sustainability spotlight

COP28: Climate change's critical impact on global healthcare preparedness

Article-COP28: Climate change's critical impact on global healthcare preparedness

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By placing healthcare at the core of COP28's objectives, the UAE’s leadership acknowledge the direct connection between environmental stability and the resilience of our healthcare systems.

Currently, the world's attention is on COP28 being held in the UAE, the critical issue of climate change, and how it is the planet’s biggest challenge in building a better and sustainable future. The conference marked a pivotal moment as it was the first COP event to dedicate a specific "Day for Health", reflecting our leadership’s acknowledgement of the pressing need to place healthcare at the forefront of our climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

There is an undeniable correlation between climate change and healthcare; extreme weather events, changing disease patterns, and the compounding effects of a warming planet are converging to pose unprecedented challenges to healthcare systems worldwide. Additionally, throughout the past few years, we have seen an increase in the frequency and intensity of these extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. These events not only result in immediate casualties but also place an unprecedented burden on healthcare systems, stretching them to their limits.

Related: Advancing sustainability in healthcare | COP28 Report

To paint a clearer picture, let us consider the aftermath of a devastating hurricane or a prolonged heatwave. Emergency rooms become inundated with patients suffering from heat-related illnesses, injuries, and exacerbations of chronic conditions. The surge in demand can overwhelm healthcare facilities, leading to delays in treatment, shortages of essential medical supplies, and increased stress on healthcare professionals. The ability of our healthcare systems to provide timely and effective care is compromised, putting lives at risk.

COP28 presents an opportunity for nations to commit to strengthening their emergency preparedness and response capacities, ensuring that healthcare systems can weather the storm of climate change. Notable, the "Day for Health" at COP28 highlighteda paradigm shift in how we approach the climate-health connection. By placing healthcare at the core of COP28's objectives, the UAE’s leadership, along with the international community, acknowledge the direct connection between environmental stability and the resilience of our healthcare systems. This dedicated day provided a platform for robust discussions, collaborative strategies, and actionable plans to address the growing threats posed by climate change to global health.

At the Centre of Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPAR) in the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, we are working on a future-proof healthcare system, that is not only responsive but also proactive in anticipating and mitigating potential crises. Led by DoH, Abu Dhabi’s wider healthcare ecosystem is working hand in hand to ensure that we are proactively prepared to respond to crises. Earlier this year, the Department announced the healthcare sustainability goals for the sector, across three main pillars: healthcare infrastructure, operations, and healthcare waste management.

Building on our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and being named the world’s most pandemic-resilient city, Abu Dhabi is taking considerable steps to future-proof its healthcare sector. The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of healthcare systems globally, emphasising the need for robust and resilient structures to withstand these emergencies and challenges. Climate change acts as a multiplier of these challenges, which is why global collective efforts today will define our future.

Healthcare systems should invest in the resilience of their infrastructures, ensuring that facilities are equipped to handle the increased demands brought about by extreme weather events. This includes fortifying hospitals to withstand natural disasters, developing contingency plans for supply chain disruptions, and training healthcare professionals to respond effectively to climate-related health crises. Abu Dhabi’s “Strategy S” provides specific guidelines to ensure that healthcare facilities comply with these sustainable measures.

Related: AI to reduce malaria in a warming world

Additionally, at CEPAR, we are working on anticipating the changing patterns of infectious diseases, to ensure that our healthcare systems can implement preventive measures, allocate resources strategically, and protect members of our community. This requires a global collaboration, as climate change knows no borders and demands a collective response from the global community.

Finally, I hope that COP28 will enable policymakers, healthcare professionals, and citizens alike to recognise the urgent need to address the impact of climate change on healthcare. The time for action is now, and the health of our communities depends on our ability to adapt, mitigate, and build resilience in the face of this growing threat. It is our collective responsibility to ensure they emerge stronger, more resilient, and better prepared to safeguard the health and well-being of generations to come.

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Dr. Saleh Saif Al Ali is the Executive Director of Emergency Preparedness & Response Centre at the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi

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