22 Nov 2023
Climate change is an urgent threat to pregnant women and children
Ahead of the COP28, which will be held later this month, the UN has released a report ‘Protecting maternal, newborn and child health from the impacts of climate change’, where they have highlighted the extreme health risks pregnant women, babies and children are facing due to climate disasters, and the urgent attention this situation requires […]

Ahead of the COP28, which will be held later this month, the UN has released a report ‘Protecting maternal, newborn and child health from the impacts of climate change’, where they have highlighted the extreme health risks pregnant women, babies and children are facing due to climate disasters, and the urgent attention this situation requires from the world.

“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 recognised in the climate response.”

The report also 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”.

The year 2023, saw a massive increase in climate related natural disasters like flash floods, wildfires, drought in various parts of the world. This has had a crucial impact on the health of women, children and infants are more vulnerable and susceptible to diseases. 

The Impact of Climate Change

The report talks about the various physiological and psychological effects climate change has on the health of women, children and infants. 

“Extreme weather events, such as floods and severe tropical storms, can increase rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in children, with potentially long-lasting mental health impacts into adulthood”, states the report. 

Climate change also has a profound impact on the health of pregnant women. “The effects of exposure to climate hazards and their aftermath during and after pregnancy can affect mental health and contribute to intergenerational trauma.They may increase stress, anxiety and depression – known risk factors for adverse perinatal outcomes”, says the report. 

It also affects the health of infants. The rise in climate change is leading to malnutrition among infants, impacting their growth and development. According to the report, as prenatal and early-life exposures influence developmental trajectories, the effects of climate change are not limited to immediate adverse and negative health effects and have the potential to reverberate across a lifetime, predisposing infants to later disease in adulthood.

Research shows that harm can begin even in the womb, leading to pregnancy-related complications, preterm birth, low birthweight and stillbirth. For children, consequences can last a lifetime, affecting the development of their bodies and brains as they grow.

Also watch: Dive Into The Ocean

“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 jeopardising 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.”

What Action Needs To Be Taken

The Call to Action highlights seven urgent actions to address these mounting risks. These include sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and action on climate finance, alongside the specific inclusion of the needs of pregnant women, babies and children within climate and disaster-related policies. The agencies also call for more research to better understand the impacts of climate change on maternal and child health.

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’’.

As per the report, economic stability is mandatory for addressing and mitigating the effects of climate change on populations at risk. Private sector actors have a responsibility to contribute to maintaining this stability, sustainably, as it is key to managing business risks and ensuring long-term returns on investment. This issue demands global attention, and a broader approach to understanding the relation of climate change when it comes to health, especially of women, children and infants. Also the need to strengthen the existing global healthcare system and make it more robust. The report also accelerates the importance of having global frameworks in place, to have a more holistic approach in dealing with health impacts on climate change.

Related Written Stories
Comments