Interplay between climate and health

What does immunization have to do with climate change?

Reda SadkiGlobal health, Thinking aloud

With climate-driven shifts in disease patterns and emerging health threats, the need for a robust immunization infrastructure is more obvious than ever. As the demand for both existing and novel vaccines rises in response to an expanding disease burden and new health threats, immunization staff will inevitably play a key role.

Immunization staff, trusted health advisors to communities, already stand as sometimes-overburdened but always critical actors in resilient health systems.

These professionals, entrusted with administering vaccines, contribute to preventing disease outbreaks and maintaining population health. Furthermore, their direct engagement with local communities, their intimate understanding of community health concerns, and their role as trusted advisors position them to recognize and respond to emerging health needs.

The role of immunization and other primary health care (PHC) staff as health educators becomes increasingly pertinent in a changing climate. By leveraging their experience in working with communities to understand and accept health interventions, immunization staff can help those they serve to make sense of the complex relationships between climate and health – and develop appropriate responses.

Through digital networks, we see health professionals connected to each other, learning from each other’s successes, lessons learned, and challenges. We imagine that these networks, if properly nurtured and sustained, will become increasingly important as health workers face the interconnected consequences of climate change on health within the local communities where they work for health. This also require new ways of thinking and new leadership, in addition to a new kind of digital health infrastructure to support turning learning into action.

As we step into a world facing escalating health threats from a changing climate, the crucial role of immunization staff in protecting communities will become more pronounced.

Existing approaches – even the ones that so impressively moved the needle of vaccination coverage and health in the past – may now need to be reconsidered and adapted to face new challenges and new threats that we know are coming.

By supporting the will and commitment of immunization staff who are concerned about the consequences of climate on health, and then expanding to include other health professionals, we may find that immunization can serve as a pathfinder to strengthen health systems and promote health equity. We may even find practical, meaningful ways for frontline health professionals and communities to forge together a new leadership for global health.

Learn more about the Geneva Learning Foundation’s special event: From community to planet: Health professionals on the frontlines of climate change.