By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THAILAND is one of 10 countries preparing for the new challenges to health that will inevitably be brought on by climate change.
The emerging health threats from climate change include surging mortality and morbidity from heat stress, injuries from extreme weather events, rising diarrhoea-related diseases, respiratory illness, malnutrition and the expansion of vector-borne diseases.
The issues were discussed at the 70th WHO Southeast Asia Regional Committee meeting in the Maldives which ran from Wednesday to Sunday.
All 11 members of the World Health Organisation’s Southeast Asia Regional Office signed a non-binding international agreement to raise readiness to respond to the new health risks from climate change.
The signatories are Maldives, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Timor-Leste and North Korea.
Dr Thaksaphon Thamarangsi, regional director for non-communicable diseases and environmental health, said it was the perfect time and place to talk about climate change and how to deal with it, as the Maldives is one of the most vulnerable countries.
“The impacts of climate change do not come only in the form of environmental problems such as rising seawater levels or more intense disasters, but also new health issues,” he said.
The hotter climate contributed to the spread of some tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, increasing mortality rates from heat stress, more frequent outbreaks of diarrhoea diseases, respiratory illness and malnutrition, and a greater chance of injuries from more frequent natural disasters, he said.
“Therefore, with the new corroboration on the [agreement], climate resilient health improvement will help boost the preparedness of our entire health system to manage the new health threats.
“The member countries can also share and learn from each other to overcome the challenges brought by climate change.
“The WHO Operational Framework for building climate resilient health systems is the main tool for supporting countries as they develop comprehensive health adaptation plans.
“The framework provides practical guidance on how the sector and its operational basis and health systems, can systematically and effectively address the challenges increasingly presented by climate change.
“Its objective is to guide health systems and public health programming to increase their capacity to protect health in an unstable and changing climate.”
Dr Thawat Suntrajarn, assistant for the public health minister and Thai representative at the meeting, said that even before inking the agreement, Thailand had already equipped itself with a climate change resilient plan for healthcare.
The country was more than ready to share information and help other members, he said.
“We have the national master plan for coping with climate change already, which is a plan to manage the changing climate in general.
“This plan is overseen by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry,” he said.