World Health Day -2008:  events and official observance of the Day in Bangladesh

The theme of this year’s World Health Day is “Protecting health from Climate Change”, and its official observance took place in the Osmani Memorial Auditorium, Dhaka.  The Chief Guest at the ceremony was the Dr. A.M.M. Shawkat Ali, Honourable Advisor, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), and the Chairperson was Mr. A.K.M. Zafar Ullah Khan, Secretary, MOHFW.  Special Guests included Dr. Duangvadee Sungkhobol, WHO Representative to Bangladesh, Mrs Kamrun Nessa Khanam, Director General of  Family Planning, Professor Md. Abul Faiz, Director General of Health Services, and Mr. Raja Devasish Roy, Special Assistant to the Honourable Chief Advisor, Ministry of Environment and Forest. A colourful exhibition on health care needs due to climate change also to took place, where folk singers sang special numbers that bore relevance to this year’s theme of protecting health from climate change.

In her speech, Dr. Sungkhobol outlined the direct and indirect health impacts of climate change including injuries and deaths from extreme weather events such as cyclones and floods; the increased risk of infectious diseases especially diarrhoeal and vector-borne diseases that are climate sensitive such as malaria and dengue; the threat of increased malnutrition and loss of livelihoods due to more widespread drought and disrupted rainfall patterns; and ultimately the risk of population migration as a consequence of the combined effects of climate change.

Dr Sungkhobol also made reference to the proposed “Framework for a National Action Plan to Reduce the Health Burden from Climate Change in Bangladesh.”  This was the main outcome of a workshop on climate change and health that was jointly organised by the Directorate General of Health Services and WHO in November 2007.  The goal of the National Action Plan is “To reduce the disease burden from current and projected risks due to climate change by empowering and equipping health system institutions in the country.”  She emphasised that WHO was ready to help further refine this action plan and that it was important to further raise awareness about the health impacts of climate change; to develop health-specific mitigation and adaptation strategies, and to ensure effective coordination so that decisions on climate change contribute to enhancing public health.

In closing, Dr. Sungkhobol expressed her view that an inter-disciplinary partnership approach within and outside of the health sector was essential to protect health from climate change.  Finally, she assured the audience that WHO Bangladesh will provide full support to the Government of Bangladesh in its efforts to implement sustainable mitigation and adaptation strategies.

At another event, also at Dhaka, a special round-table brainstorming session also took place  to mark the World Health Day 2008, organised by the National Health Rights Movement Committee. Many experts on the subject of health care budgeting, climate change geography, the economics of climate change, were present as speakers. The emphasis was on increasing the national budget outlays for the poor and for those populations that are vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Future budget plans, the speakers felt, must have additional allocations with a long-term vision, considering the economic hardships and the added costs for health care due to the enhanced burden of disease that may arise due to climate change over the coming years.  

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