National meteorological services are frontline health partners: Celeste Saulo

By World Meteorological Organization

National meteorological services are frontline health partners: Celeste Saulo

The World Health Assembly has approved a landmark resolution to elevate health and climate to a top priority, marking a clear shift in focus and setting the stage for scaled-up action against one of humanity’s greatest challenges.

WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo joined Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, and other global health leaders in a Strategic Roundtable on climate change and health on the closing day of the Assembly on 1 June. The event aimed to bolster momentum and shape the global health architecture for tackling climate change.

Former United States of America Vice President Al Gore emphasized the urgency of climate change. Teymur Musayev, Minister of Healthcare, the Republic of Azerbaijan emphasized the great example of collaboration and coordination between health and environment ministers and provided a vision for health at the upcoming COP 29. Health ministers from Fiji and Cabo Verde both called for climate change and health justice in island states.

“National Meteorological Services can be your frontline partners to plan and become more resilient to extreme weather and climate change impacts. They provide reliable and robust data, information, and authoritative early warnings. We can help you understand how diseases may change and when health emergencies may occur – but our collaborations need to go deeper,” said Celeste Saulo.

The WMO State of Climate Services for Health report issued last year, in collaboration with WHO, showed that 74% of National Meteorological Services provide climate data to the health sector. However, only 23% of Ministries of Health are using this information for health surveillance. This gap is too big, she said.

“There are so many steps we can take now. WHO has just found that Heat health warning systems can save almost 100,000 lives a year if we can tell the public when hot weather is dangerous and how to stay safe. And yet only 26 Ministries of Health report to WHO they have a heat health warning system,” said Celeste Saulo. This must improve as part of the Early Warnings for All initiative, she said.

The World Health Assembly coincided with a fierce heat in South Asia, including large parts of India with temperatures close to or exceeding 50°C in New Delhi.

“This is not livable, and hundreds of millions of people are suffering both indoors and outdoors. Dangerous heat is making people sick and putting immense strain on hospitals, on communities, and families. This situation is only going to become more common as the climate warms — also driving more drought, wildfires, and poor air quality. Climate change is sabotaging people’s health and setting back public health progress. This is not the future we want for our children,” she said.

WHA resolution

The World Health Assembly resolution commits WHO and its Members to ramp up action on health and climate. The WHO 14th General Programme Work will integrate climate across the technical work of the WHO at global, regional and national levels.

The resolution marks a shift from a focus on ‘adaptation’ to low-carbon and resilient health system and intersectoral action, including with national meteorological services.

Specifically, the resolution calls on Member States

  • to integrate climate data into existing monitoring, early warning, surveillance, and data collection systems to enable evidence-based decision-making and targeted interventions that respond to the impacts of climate
  • to promote inter and multisectoral cooperation between national health ministries and relevant national authorities on climate change to address the interlinkages between the environment, the economy, health, nutrition and sustainable development.

It recognizes that “climate change is one of the major threats to global public health, and noting the urgent call issued by the WHO Director-General for global climate action to promote health and build climate-resilient and sustainable health systems.”

It calls on WHO “to collaborate with the wider United Nations system and other relevant partners at the national, regional and multilateral levels to foster action on climate change and health” that is integrated, coherent advances gender equality, and is in line with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Paris Agreement processes.

This new WHA resolution aligns with the World Meteorological Congress resolution on Advancing Integrated Climate, Environment, and Health Science and services.

In 2023 WMO Members endorsed a 10-year Implementation Plan to work more closely with WHO and the health sector to enhance policy alignment and coordination, build capacity, research, and operational services that will help Members address major challenges such as extreme heat, infectious disease risks, nutritional insecurity, as well as meet their Nationally Determined Contributions.