Investing in the health workforce is vital to face climate change: A new report shares insights from over 1,200 on the frontline

Investing in the health workforce is vital to tackle climate change: A new report shares insights from over 1,200 on the frontline

Reda SadkiGlobal health, The Geneva Learning Foundation

Geneva, Switzerland (1 December 2023) – The Geneva Learning Foundation has published a new report titled “On the frontline of climate change and health: A health worker eyewitness report.” The report shares first-hand experiences from over 1,200 health workers in 68 countries who are first responders already battling climate consequences on health.

As climate change intensifies health threats, local health professionals may offer one of the most high-impact solutions.

Charlotte Mbuh of The Geneva Learning Foundation, said: “Local health workers are trusted advisers to communities. They are first to observe health consequences of climate change, before the global community is able to respond. They can also be first to respond to limit damage to health.”

Listen to Charlotte Mbuh’s speech at the COP28 Healthcare Pavilion on 11 December 2023. Read the full speech

“Health workers are already taking action with communities to mitigate and respond to the health effects of climate change, often with little or no recognition,” said Reda Sadki, President of The Geneva Learning Foundation (TGLF). “If we want to build and maintain trust in climate science, policy, and action, we need to invest in the workforce, as they are the ones that communities rely on to make sense of what is changing.” 

The report vividly illustrates the profound impacts climate change is already having on health, as shared by health workers themselves.

The wide-ranging health consequences directly observed by health workers include malnutrition due to crop failures, increasing incidence of infectious diseases, widespread mental health impacts, and reduced access to health services. Here are three examples.

  • Bie Lilian Mbando, a health worker in Cameroon: “Where I live in Buea, the flood from Mount Cameroon took away all belongings of people in my neighbourhood and killed a secondary school student who was playing football with his friends.”
  • Cecilia Nabwirwa, a nurse in Nairobi, Kenya: “I remember my grand-child getting sick after eating vegetables grown along sewage areas. Since then I resolved to growing my own vegetables to ensure healthy eating.”
  • Alhassan Kenneth Mohammed, health facility worker in Ghana: “During the rainy season, it is very difficult for people to seek care for their health needs. They wait for the condition to get worse before coming to the facility.”

Surprising insights from these experiences include:

  • Climate change worsens menstrual hygiene: Scarce water access brought by droughts can severely affect women’s ability to maintain proper menstrual hygiene. “Women and girls have challenges during menstruation as there is limited water,” noted one community health worker.
  • Respiratory disease spikes with prolonged dust storms: Multiple health workers traced a rise in chronic coughs and other respiratory illness directly back to longer dry seasons and dust storms in areas turned to desert by climate shifts.
  • Crop failure drives up alcohol abuse among men: In farming regions struggling with drought, women health practitioners connected livelihood loss to a stark rise in substance abuse, specifically alcoholism among men. “There has been job loss, low income, and depression. Also, men became alcoholics, which is now a national menace,” described one district-level worker.

Reda Sadki explains: “The experiences shared provide vivid illustrations of the human impacts of climate change. By giving a voice to health workers on the front lines, the report highlights the urgent need to support local action with communities to build resilience. This report is only a first step that needs to lead to action.”

Beyond the report, an opportunity to scale locally-led action using innovative approaches 

As John Wabwire Shikuku, a community health worker from Port Victoria Sun County Hospital in Kenya, explains: “What gives me hope and keeps me going in my work is witnessing the growing awareness and mobilization of young people to address climate change, the development of sustainable solutions, and the potential for global collaboration to safeguard their future.”

We need new approaches to supporting climate and health action. We need to go directly to those on climate change’s frontlines – connecting local health workers globally not just to share struggles but lead action.

  • Rather than siloed programs, we need radically participatory solutions that distill and share hyperlocal innovations across massive peer groups in real-time.
  • Through new approaches, we can rapidly distill hyperlocal insights and multiplier solutions no top-down program matches.

The Geneva Learning Foundation’s proven peer learning model provides one such solution to connect and amplify local action across boundaries, offering those on the frontline tailored support and capabilities to lead context-specific solutions.

How to access the report

The report “On the frontline of climate change and health: A health worker eyewitness report” is available here: An abridged Summary report and an At a glance executive summary are also available, together with a compendium of 50 health worker experiences.

Watch the Special Event: From community to planet: Health professionals on the frontlines of climate change

What happens next?

  • Register here to receive email updates from The Geneva Learning Foundation about climate and health.
  • During COP28, health workers are answering this question: “If you could ask the leaders at COP28 to do one thing right now to keep your community healthy, what would it be?”. You can find their responses on LinkedInTwitter/XFacebook, and Instagram.

About The Geneva Learning Foundation

Learn more about The Geneva Learning Foundation:

Created by a group of learning innovators and scientists with the mission to discover new ways to lead change, TGLF’s team combines over 70 years of experience with both country-based (field) work and country, region, and global partners.

  • Our small, fully remote agile team already supports over 60,000 health practitioners leading change in 137 countries.
  • We reach the front lines: 21% face armed conflict; 25% work with refugees or internally-displaced populations; 62% work in remote rural areas; 47% with the urban poor; 36% support the needs of nomadic/migrant populations.

TGLF’s unique package:

  1. Helps local actors take action with communities to tackle local challenges, and
  2. provides the tools to build a global network, platform, and community of health workers that can scale up local impact for global health.

In 2019, research showed that TGLF’s approach can accelerate locally-led implementation of innovative strategies by 7X, and works especially well in fragile contexts.