Climate change has posed a great challenge to and an extreme impact on people’s life in the 21st century. According to researchers and experts, Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and extreme weather events. Diseases related to climate change, which have become common and burdened, are expected to increase in the coming decades.
As reported by the Global Burden of Disease, the economic and social burden caused by sensitive diseases with climate change will continue to increase, due to the lack of trained health staff to proactively adapt, and the policies are incomplete and the facilities are not guaranteed. To proactively respond to this challenge, on December 24, 2018. The Ministry of Health issued a decision approving the health sector’s action plan to respond to climate change for the period 2019-2030 and the vision to 2050.
To do so, on December 22-23, the University of Public Health held a scientific workshop on “Adapting to climate change” in the framework of cooperation with Queen’s University Belfast, UK to co-implement the project entitled “Building Public Health Resilience in Vietnam: An Early Warning System using Artificial Intelligence”.
This is an opportunity for researchers and experts to share their research results on vulnerability and adaptation capacity to climate change of the health sector in Vietnam as well as to strengthen connections between the UK and Vietnam and for cooperation in the field of public health and communications technology, and thus, contributing to improve the adaptive capacity and proactive response to a number of sensitive diseases with climate change.
At the workshop, it was a great honor to welcome the leaders of the Department of Health Environment Management – Ministry of Health, representatives of the British Council in Vietnam, the Rector Board of the University of Public Health and the participation of experts and scientists, lecturers, researchers, and students from many institutions and universities of public health, preventive medicine, and health science in Vietnam.
Especially, the workshop also had the online participation of Prof. Trung Q. Duong (Chair of Telecommunications at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and Research Chair – Royal Academy of Engineering, UK) presented the applications of 5G technology, artificial intelligence, big data to response to natural disasters; Dr. Mai Thai Son (QUB), the Co-I, presented the project “Building Public Health Resilience in Vietnam: An Early Warning System using Artificial Intelligence”; and Dr. Phung Tri Dung (Griffith Australia University) presented the research on assessing the impact of temperature change on health in Vietnam.
The harsh climate poses many challenges to the economy, sustainable development and the health system
In the opening speech, Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Thi Lien Huong, Director of the Department of Health Environment Management, Ministry of Health, emphasized that the very severe impacts of climate change and extreme weather events have affected not only the environment, economic and society development but the human health and the health system.
In terms of health, climate change and extreme weather events have increased the risk of dengue fever, diarrhea, hand, foot and mouth disease, hospital admissions, especially in the elderly and children in diseases of the heart, respiratory system, digestive system, and food poisoning.
For the health sector, such natural disasters, floods and extreme weather phenomena caused destruction and damaged medical establishments and medical equipment, disrupted and affected the quality of medical examination and treatment and increased pressure on disease prevention in the health sector.
“If we do not perform well to proactively respond and adapt to climate change and extreme weather events, the impact and the damage to the health sector will become more serious, hence, in the future it will take a lot of effort, resources and time to overcome the impacts caused by climate change on the health sector”- Said Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Thi Lien Huong.
According to the Director of the Department of Health Environment Management, the target in 2030 will develop and complete mechanisms and policies of the health sector in response to climate change. Along with that is raising the awareness and capacity of health staff in the community in health protection to respond to climate change, strengthening the health system’s ability to respond to climate change, and giving priority to the grassroots health system. By 2050, climate change response will be integrated, incorporated together with the implementation of policies, programs, plans and options of the health sector.
Connecting researchers around the world to strengthen adaptive capacity and actively respond to climate change
According to the assessment results of the vulnerability and adaptation capacity to climate change of the health sector in Vietnam conducted by a research team of the University of Public Health, the sensitive diseases with climate change such as dengue, malaria, diarrhea, flu, hand, foot and mouth disease have been very common in Vietnam in the past 20 years.
Over the past two decades, an average of 1,306,167 cases of influenza and 80,938 cases of dengue fever have been recorded each year. Diarrhea is still ranked the 6th among the main causes of disease-adjusted life years (DALYs) and the 5th leading cause of premature death in Vietnam.
At the workshop, Prof. Hoang Van Minh – Vice Rector in charge of the University of Public Health, said that it is very important to conduct research and provide the evidence for policy-makers to build plan and develop response strategies to climate change.
According to Prof. Hoang Van Minh, research on climate change is quite difficult because it requires extensive, deep and evolving data over time. Besides, this study requires very advanced analytical techniques. In recent years, the University of Public Health has invested in this research and has coordinated a number of very meaningful projects with Griffith University (Australia) and QUB (UK). Throughout those projects, we have been connected and learned from the world-class scientists.
Proposing cooperation in disseminations about climate change and health
At the workshop, on behalf of the Department of Health Environment Management (Ministry of Health), Dr. Do Manh Cuong has given a talk about “An introduction to climate change adaption plan of the Health Sector in Vietnam”. The overall goals of the plan are improving the health sector’s ability to respond to climate change to prevent and reduce risk factors of the environment; the effect of climate change on the health system and health that contribute to ensuring protection, care and improvement of people’s health.
Specifically, building and completing mechanisms and policies for the health sector in responding to climate change; raising awareness and capacity of health staff and communities in health protection and response to climate change; strengthening the health system’s ability to respond to climate change, giving priority to the grassroots health system.
To implement the plan, the Ministry of Health has also proposed climate change adaptation solutions in the health sector including: policy mechanisms and management organization; disseminations with advocacy; capacity building on climate change and health; building a forecasting and warning system; building models of climate change adaptation; strengthening research activities; strengthening adaptive capacity of the health system to ensure disease prevention and control.
In addition to the solutions, the Ministry of Health has also proposed further cooperation of communication on climate change and health, especially communication and guidance on health protection against the impact of air pollution; strengthening the health sector’s capacity to adapt to climate change; conducting V&A assessment in localities; piloting and deploying software for forecasting and warning of climate change and health; piloting and scaling up models of climate change adaptation in communities and health facilities; studying and sharing experiences, and organising scientific and policy forums on climate change and health.
Also, at the workshop, Assoc. Prof. Tran Thi Tuyet Hanh from University of Public Health presented an assessment of vulnerability and adaptation capacity to climate change of the health sector in Vietnam and Assoc. Prof. Le Thi Phuong Mai from National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology gave a talk about the impacts of climate change on the health of some vulnerable communities in Vietnam.
The participants at the workshop further discussed to share the experiences to strengthen the connections to develop more research directions and new projects in the future.
Vietnam ranks the 5th in the list of countries mostly affected by climate change. By 2100, the average temperature increases 3 degrees Celsius and the sea level may increase 1m. It will cause the damage of about 17 billion per year and about 17 million people homeless.