Climate Change is an Urgent Threat to Pregnant Women and Children

Climate change is an urgent threat to pregnant women and children

Climate Change is an Urgent Threat to Pregnant Women and Children – According to a call for action released today by UN agencies ahead of COP28 talks in Dubai, women, children and pregnant women are at high risk of serious health consequences from climate-related disasters.

According to the document– Protecting maternal, newborn and child health from the impacts of climate change – the effects of climate events on maternal and child health have been neglected, underreported and underestimated. It highlights that very few countries’ climate change response plans mention maternal or child health, describing this as “a glaring omission and emblematic of the inadequate attention to the needs of women, newborns, and children in the climate change discourse”.

“Climate change poses an existential threat to all of us, but pregnant women, babies and children face some of the gravest consequences of all,” said Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director General for Universal Health Coverage, Life Course at the World Health Organization (WHO). “Children’s futures need to be consciously protected, which means taking climate action now for the sake of their health and survival, while ensuring their unique needs are recognized in the climate response.”

2023 is shaping up to be a year of extreme climate events. From wildfires to floods, heat waves to droughts, people are being displaced, crops are being destroyed, livestock are being slaughtered, and air pollution is on the rise.

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The world is overheating at an alarming rate, and this is leading to an increase in the spread of diseases such as cholera and malaria, as well as dengue.

Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to these infections, and the effects can start even in utero. Pregnancy-related complications can lead to preterm birth and low birthweight, as well as stillbirth.

For children, the effects can last for life, affecting their body and brain development as they grow.

“Action on climate change often ignores that children’s bodies and minds are uniquely vulnerable to pollution, deadly diseases and extreme weather,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for Programmes, Omar Abdi. “We do this at our peril. The climate crisis is jeopardizing every child’s fundamental right to health and well-being. It is our collective responsibility to listen and put children at the centre of urgent climate action, beginning at COP28. This is the moment to finally put children on the climate change agenda.”

The Call to Action identifies seven immediate and long-term priorities to address these growing threats. These include long-term GHG reductions and climate finance measures, as well as explicitly including the health of pregnant women, infants and children in climate and disaster policies.

The agencies also urge further research into the effects of climate change on the health of mothers and children.

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“To find climate solutions that acknowledge the distinct health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls we must start by asking the right questions,” said Diene Keita, the Deputy Executive Director for Programmes at UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. “Global climate solutions must support – not sacrifice – gender equality.”

The Call to Action was released by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA at an online launch event, alongside an advocacy brief by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH). The PMNCH advocacy brief reinforces the Call to Action by outlining specific recommendations for different stakeholders – including governments, global financing mechanisms, donors and foundations, private sector and civil society – for ensuring that the health needs of women, children and adolescents are better addressed in climate policies, financing, and programmes.

“Climate change is a major intergenerational injustice of our times. Safeguarding the health and rights of women, children, and adolescents is non-negotiable in the face of the climate crisis’’, said Rt Hon Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand. ‘’Every stakeholder, from governments to the private sector and civil society, including health care professionals, holds a critical role in championing policies and actions which protect the most vulnerable. The urgency to integrate women, children and adolescent health needs into climate responses is not just a moral imperative, but an effective strategy with long-term benefits for resilient and healthy societies’’.

During the COP28 meetings, delegates will mark the first ever Day of Health, noting the intractable linkages between the health of people and the planet.