Impact of climate change on healthcare needs more research

A study that mapped and analysed the available literature on the impact of climate change on the provisioning of emergency care in Africa indicated a lack of research, shortages in emergency care and human resources and weak health infrastructure and technology capabilities, among other things.

These shortcomings necessitate urgent attention to improve emergency healthcare preparedness and responses at times of climate change-related disasters, according to the study ‘Climate change and emergency care in Africa: A scoping review’, published in the African Journal of Emergency Medicine.

“This is the first study to summarise the literature on the relationship between climate change and emergency medicine as it relates to Africa,” stated the authors of the study: Elzarie Theron and Willem Stassen from the University of Cape Town in South Africa; Corey Bills and Emilie Calvello Hynes at the United States-based University of Colorado School of Medicine and Caitlin Rublee at US-based Medical College of Wisconsin.


The study provides an overview of available literature that examines the intersection of climate change and emergency care (out-of-hospital and facility-based) in Africa by collecting available literature on climate change and emergency care using five databases, namely PubMed, Web of Science, GreenFILE, Africa-Wide Information and Google Scholar.

Out of 1,382 individual articles on the relationship between climate change and emergency care, only six articles (0.4 %) were related to African countries – Uganda (two articles), Ghana (two), Tanzania (one) and Nigeria (one).

Analysis of the six articles yielded three key themes: climate-related health impacts that contribute to surges in demand and resource utilisation, opportunities for health sector engagement, and solutions to improve emergency preparedness.

Based on the analysis, climate change is a public health emergency with implications for access to care and emergency care service disruptions affecting countries in Africa, according to the study.

“The African continent is particularly vulnerable to climate-related extreme heat, flooding, drought, dust storms and wildfires [that affect] an already overburdened healthcare system,” the study noted.

The study pointed out that “there is a gap in the types of climate-related disasters (droughts, fires, dust) as well as the countries represented in the included literature”.

“There is a dearth of research on emergency care and climate change,” the study emphasised.

This is in line with a 14 June 2022 ISI Insights paper, ‘Climate change collaboration: Why we need an international approach to research’, which showed that 50% of all climate change research in the past 20 years has focused on oceanography, meteorology and atmospheric sciences, climate change (as its own topic) and forestry.

African climate change research focuses mainly on marine biology, forestry and adaptation, according to the ISI Insights paper.

Proposed measures

“Considering that the effects of climate change are expected to increase in intensity and prevalence, it is increasingly important for emergency care to prepare to respond to the changes in presentation and demand,” the study pointed out.

The situation “necessitates urgent attention to preparing health systems and healthcare professionals in low- and middle-income countries to address the health effects of climate change”.

“Emergency care professionals will be crucial in guiding municipalities and aiding out-of-hospital and facility-based healthcare in preparedness and response to climate-related hazards, turning a deficits approach to one of strength and prosperity.

“Healthcare workers are one of the fundamental components of climate-resilient health systems” but, “unfortunately, shortages in the healthcare workforce are well recognised on the continent”, the study pointed out.

“The review enabled us to identify gaps in the literature that can inform future research and guide evidence-based practice.

“Partnering with the African Federation for Emergency Medicine and other medical organisations may prove useful for scaling changes and managing research databases to measure impacts and interventions,” the study suggested.

Looking ahead

Morad Ahmed Morad, a professor of medicine at Tanta University in Egypt, told University World News: “African academic institutions, universities, medical schools, faculties of medicine and university hospitals must join forces with global organisations to help achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13.”

This could be done through setting up climate-resilient emergency care systems in Africa for improving emergency healthcare preparedness and responses in Africa as well as developing solutions that are context-specific to African countries, he said.

Morad’s view is in line with recommendations of the ISI Insights paper which called for creating global research collaborations between countries to help drive innovation and enhancing the exchange of knowledge, technologies, expertise and ideas that would benefit local communities.

“This could be done by improving health professional education on climate and health through integrating climate change curriculums in medical education as well as increasing evidence-based research on climate-related health impacts and evidence-based interventions, and incorporating climate change into clinical practice along with providing local, national and international climate policy work and enhancing public understanding of the current science of climate change and its impact on health,” Morad pointed out.

Victor Ongoma, a professor of climate change adaptation at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco, told University World News: “Weather and climate extremes are projected to increase in both frequency and intensity, consequently increasing the related health challenges such as heatwaves.

“African medical academic institutions can help in building resilience to climate-related medical challenges or emergencies through training health experts to respond to the emergencies,” Ongoma said.

“The experts should guide policy- and decision-makers to mainstream climate change impacts in the health sector. Further, the medical training institutions can serve as medical referral centres or facilities to respond to climate-related health emergencies during hours of need,” Ongoma pointed out.