Africa Urged to Carry Out Planetary Health Reforms

November 23, 2015

By Gilbert Nakweya and Sam Otieno, via SciDev.Net

Experts are urging African countries to carry out policy reforms to achieve planetary health by taking into account human health and the natural systems on which it depends.

The experts, speaking during the launch of the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission report on planetary health in East Africa last month (30th October) in Kenya, warned that the continued exploration of natural resources for economic gain without safeguarding the environment could make future generations suffer from problems such as diseases and food insecurity.

Alex Ezeh, executive director of Kenya-based African Population and Health Research Center, said that population control policies need to be strengthened in Africa to be able to address the existing burden of disease and to avoid having more health problems that could arise from further changes in the environment.

“We need robust family planning methods to control our population, which is rapidly growing,” Ezeh explained, noting that it is impossible to deal with Africa’s growth and poverty challenges without properly managing urbanisation.

The report takes a holistic approach on how human activities are affecting planetary health and discusses opportunities and possible actions, according to Montira Pongsiri, a co-author of the report and an environmental health scientist at the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are mortgaging our future to achieve health,” Pongsiri said, adding that planetary health and the UN’s agenda 2030 on sustainabledevelopment goals (SDGs) cannot be advanced unless attention is paid to the underlying natural resources.

Achim Steiner, director-general of the United Nations Environment Programme, added that health and environment are interrelated and that keeping a healthy environment and a healthy people could help countries achieve the SDGs.

According to Steiner, for the last 100 years, humans have negatively affected the natural ecosystem through modernisation.

Ezeh added that Africa must act to support planetary health by reviewing existing policies and strengthening them. He observed that Africa needs policies that promote a greener environment and manage urbanisation to help the continent address the challenges of diseases.

Africa needs to build a resilient health system by integrating health and the environment to address the challenges of emerging and re-emerging diseases such as Ebola, Ezeh indicated.

But Nelson Sewankambo, professor of medicine and president of the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, says that Africa has an opportunity to play a leading role and make a difference on planetary health.

Sewankambo tells SciDev.Net: “We are part of the problem, but we need to be part of the solution”.

Sewankambo is challenging African national academies of sciences and universities to create and lead centres of excellence in planetary health by bringing people from various fields and disciplines to address health and environment-related challenges.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa desk.