Manila: A six-year, pioneering regional technical assistance initiative has boosted the capacity of health systems in Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), and Viet Nam to respond to climate-induced health threats amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced today.
The Strengthening Resilience to Climate Change in the Health Sector in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) project helped the three countries adopt national health adaptation plans to address weather-related health risks, including heat and communicable diseases such as dengue, malaria, heat stress, and diarrhea.
In all, it completed detailed vulnerability and adaptation assessments for 14 high-risk provinces in those countries and trained more than 1,300 health sector staff on climate change and health adaptation. In addition, more than 600 policy makers from the public and private sectors participated in high-level advocacy meetings and workshops focused on national health adaptation strategies and the coordination of disease surveillance and responses, among others.
The project also helped the three governments identify cost-effective investments to reduce mortality and morbidity caused by diseases related to climate change. They included establishing early heat warning systems and upgrading health facilities to be more climate resilient, especially in remote, underserved communities.
“The project has helped reduce Cambodia, the Lao PDR, and Viet Nam’s vulnerability to climate-induced health threats, especially among vulnerable populations, including the poor, migrants, and ethnic minorities,” said ADB Director of Human and Social Development for Southeast Asia Ayako Inagaki.
“The project helped the country improve disease tracking and identify feasible investment options to construct climate-resilient health facilities,” said ADB Country Director for the Lao PDR Sonomi Tanaka. “The Lao PDR’s health agencies are now better equipped to mitigate climate change’s health and economic impacts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The project was approved in 2015 with a $4.4 million grant from the Nordic Development Fund and counterpart financing from the three governments. It was ADB’s first initiative in Southeast Asia to improve government responses to climate change’s impacts on health care. It built on ADB’s comparative advantage in facilitating regional cooperation and strengthening regional health cooperation as a public good.
The governments of Cambodia, the Lao PDR, and Viet Nam recognize that climate change is a major threat to their sustainable economic development. All three had approved strategic plans for public health as part of their national strategic plans on climate change.
The project was implemented by Cambodia’s Preventive Medicine Department, the Lao PDR’s Department of Hygiene and Health Promotion, and Viet Nam’s Health Environment Management Agency. All three countries were actively involved in the technical assistance’s preparation, implementation, capacity building activities, and knowledge sharing.
In particular, the project improved timely data gathering for governments to monitor the impact of climate change on public health, tools such as a database, a modeling approach, and a digital atlas. The project also trained national and provincial health staff on surveillance systems for climate-sensitive diseases, the analysis of epidemiology data, and health challenges unique to women, children, and other vulnerable groups.
ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.