20231211.COP28 Health Pavilion event

Climate change is a threat to the health of the communities we serve: health workers speak out at COP28

Reda SadkiEvents, Global health, The Geneva Learning Foundation

The Geneva Learning Foundation’s Charlotte Mbuh spoke today at the COP28 Health Pavilion in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Watch the speech at COP28

Good afternoon. I am Charlotte Mbuh. I have worked for the health of children and families in Cameroon for over 15 years.

I am one of more than 5,500 health workers from 68 countries who have connected to share our observations of how climate is affecting the health of those we serve. 

“Going back home to the community where I grew up as a child, I was shocked to see that most of the rivers we used to swim and fish in have all dried up, and those that are still there have become very shallow so that you can easily walk through a river you required a boat to cross in years past.”

These are the words of Samuel Chukwuemeka Obasi, a health worker from Nigeria.

Dr Kumbha Gopi, a health worker from India said: “The use of motor vehicles has led to an increase in air pollution and we see respiratory problems and skin diseases”.

Climate change is hurting the health of those we serve. And it is getting worse.

Few here would deny that health workers are an essential voice to listen to in order to understand climate impacts on health.

Yet, a man named Jacob on social media snapped: “Since when are health workers the authority on air pollution?”

Here are the words of Bie Lilian Mbando, a health worker from my country: “Where I live in Buea, the flood from Mount Cameroon took away all belongings of people in my neighborhood and killed a secondary school student who was playing football with his friends.”

Climate change is killing communities.

Cecilia Nabwirwa, a nurse in Nairobi, Kenya: “I remember my grand-son getting sick after eating vegetables grown along areas flooded by sewage. Since then I resolved to growing my own vegetables to ensure healthy eating.”

And yet, another man on social media, Robert, found this “ridiculous. As if my friend who sells fish at his fish stall comes as an expert on water quality.”

I wondered: why such brutal responses?

Well, unlike scientists or global agencies, we cannot be dismissed as “experts from on-high”.

What we know, we know because we are here every day.

We are part of the community.

And we know that climate change is a threat to the health of the communities we serve.

We are already having to manage the impacts of climate change on health.

We are doing the best that we can.

But we need your support.

The global community is investing in building a new scientific field around climate and health.

Massive investments are also being made in policy.

Are we making a commensurate investment in people and communities?

That should mean investing in health workers.

What will happen if this investment is neglected?

What if big global donors say: “it’s important, but it’s not part of our strategy?”

Well, in 5, 10, or 15 years, we will certainly have much improved science and, hopefully, policy.

Yet, some communities might reject better science and policy.

Will the global community then wonder: “Why don’t they know what’s good for them?” 

I am an immunization worker. For over 15 years, I have worked for my country’s ministry of health.

Like my colleagues from all over the world, I know more than a little about what it takes to establish and maintain trust.

Trust in vaccination, trust in public health.

Trust that by standing together in the face of critical threats to our societies, we all stand to do better.

Local communities in the poorest countries are already bearing the brunt of climate change effects on health.

Local solutions are needed.

Health workers are trusted advisors to the communities we serve.

With every challenge, there is an opportunity.

On 28 July 2023, 4,700 health workers began learning from each other through the Geneva Learning Foundation’s platform, community, and network.

Thousands more are connecting with each other, because they choose to.

And because they want to take action.

It is our duty to support them.

In March 2024, we will hold the tenth Teach to Reach conference.

The last edition reached over 17,000 health workers from more than 80 countries.

This time, our focus will be on climate and health.

We invite global partners to join, to listen and to learn.

We invite you to consider how you, your organization, your government might support action by health workers on the frontline.

Because we will rise.

As health workers, with or without your support, we will continue to stand up with courage, compassion and commitment, working to lift up our communities.

Our perseverance calls us all to press forward towards climate justice and health equity.

I wish to challenge us, as a global community, to rise together, so that  the voices of those on the frontline of climate change will be at the next Conference of Parties.

By standing together, we all stand to do better.

Thank you.