Regional Hub Workshop for Connecting the Dots Between Climate Change, Health, and Equity

written by Bishnu Bhatta from PSD-Nepal

We are currently at a crucial point in human history where the climate crisis looms large, threatening public health and equity globally, collective action has never been more critical. South and Southeast Asia, in particular, face unique challenges, exacerbated by climate change, including increased susceptibility to extreme weather events, water and vector-borne illnesses, deteriorating air quality, and other climate-related risks. However, with united efforts, there’s vast potential to leverage expertise and applied wisdom that not only protects but improves lives and livelihoods now and for years to come.

In this context, the Partnership for Sustainable Development Nepal, alongside the United States National Academy of Medicine, the Nepal Health Research Council, the National Academy of Science and Technology Nepal, SickKids Centre for Global Child Health, the Institute for Global Health & Development at The Aga Khan University and The InterAcademyPartnership organized a landmark hybrid workshop titled “Connecting the Dots Between Climate Change and Health” in Kathmandu, Nepal on March 14 – 15,2024. High-level delegates, including global leaders, policymakers, scientists, and community implementers, converged to identify immediate and long-term priorities for the region, focusing on a climate-related health agenda. The Prime Minister of Nepal provided opening remarks to set the context on the nexus of climate and health in the region. Participants discussed the science of climate change, highlighted key issues in the region, and explored community-led health and equity solutions. This was the first meeting of a larger effort to build are search and innovation hub that prioritizes human health and equity with a changing climate in South and Southeast Asia

The day began with in-person registration activities aimed at showcasing the importance of the workshop and enhancing visibility through various means like pamphlets, brochures, and social media campaigns. The Inaugural Session featured Mr. Bhusan Dahal setting the stage for the conference chaired by Vice-Chancellor of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Prof. Dr. Dilip Subba, followed by welcome remarks from Dr. Rabindra Prasad Dhakal, the secretary of  NAST. The opening consisted of remarks from Hon’ble Deputy-Prime Minister of Nepal and Minister of Health Mr. Upendra Yadav, Hon’ble Minister of Energy, Water and Irrigation Mr. Shakti Bahadur Basnet and from Right Honorable Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’.Their kind words gave an extra boost of energy to the workshop. The event included esteemed speakers Dr. Ourania Kosti, Ms. Izabella Koziell, Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, Ms. Clare Langley-Hawthorne, and Dr. Victor J. Dzau sharing their perspectives on climate change, health, and equity. A special vote of thanks was given by Executive Chief of Nepal Health Research Council Dr. Pramod Joshi, MD and the inaugural session came to an end with closing remarks from the Chairperson of the conference

The day continued with the Theme 1 Session focusing on the political economy of climate and health, with discussions led by experts Dr. Popular Gentle, Dr. Suresh Tiwari, Prof. Dr. Shrinath Reddy, Dr. K. Locana Gunaratna and Dr. Victor Hoe. The Theme 2 Session delved into research and innovation, highlighting the importance of addressing regional challenges of climate change and health. The day concluded with the Theme 3 Session on Ways of Knowing: Research-Policy-Impact, where experts from Nepal, Pakistan, SriLanka, and Bangladesh shared their insights. The day ended with closing remarks by Dr. Popular Gentle, summarizing the key takeaways from the day’s discussions

The second day of the workshop continued the momentum with a keynote speech by Dr. Jonathan Patz, emphasizing the importance of research and innovation in addressing climate change, health, and equity. Mr. Joe Torres from Canada Grand Challenge then provided the workshop with his insightful remarks on opportunities for collaboration and unity across sectors to create and sustain efforts, leveraging existing structures and partnerships. The session on Climate Change, Health, and Equity as today’s global grand challenge brought together experts Dr. Amy Thein, Dr. Meghnath Dhimal, Dr. Sameer Mani Dixit, and Prof. Dr. Janak Koirala to discuss nutrition, infectious diseases, research frameworks, among other topics to amplify evidence to drive action led by the Global South

The day progressed with a focus on community mobilization in climate and health research and innovation in South and Southeast Asia, highlighting the role of grassroots efforts in combating climate-related health challenges. The session featured speakers Dr. Donald Warne, Ms. Saru Pyakurel, Dr. Carol O’Donnell, and Dr. Suraj Bhattarai, emphasizing the importance of community engagement and locally-led solutions. After lunch and networking, the workshop delved into the discussion of a Regional Hub, defining scopes of work for productive research and innovation hubs, and unveiling the “Kathmandu Commitment-2024” Committee. This Committee was established to formulate commitments recommended by experts from diverse backgrounds present at the workshop. The ‘Kathmandu Commitment-2024’ outlines an initial set of commitments by the South and Southeast Asia Regional Research and Innovation Hub for Climate Change, Health, and Equity

The commitments include a focus on enabling local solutions tailored to regional climate and health challenges, utilizing Indigenous knowledge and grassroots innovations for sustainable interventions. They emphasize active community involvement, especially by populations most impacted such as women, children, people from low-wealth areas, outdoor workers, health workers, and Indigenous communities, ensuring their meaningful participation and empowerment in climate and health programs and interventions. The commitments also highlight the development of advanced methodologies for scalable solutions, policies informed by evidence and community input, and strategic collaborations to address the multifaceted challenges of climate change and health disparities. Additionally, there is a strong emphasis on building resilience through capacity building, aligning with global sustainability goals, and continuous evaluation and adaptation to meet the evolving needs of the region’s dynamic climate, health, and social equity landscape

The day concluded with a moderated discussion to integrate insights from the themes discussed throughout the event. The closing remarks and acknowledgement by Mr. Bishnu Bhatta marked the end of the workshop, highlighting the importance of collective action and innovation in addressing the complex challenges at the nexus of climate change, health, and equity. The remarks emphasized the critical intersections of climate, health, and equity, highlighting the need for local solutions informed by Indigenous knowledge and grassroots innovation. The ‘Kathmandu Commitments-2024’ were introduced as a framework for sustainable interventions to improve population health and well-being. The establishment of the Regional Hub signifies a commitment to a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach, emphasizing the importance of involving vulnerable communities in program design and implementation. Political commitments for science, innovation, and action were underscored, with a focus on science and technology driving progress through effective policies. Gratitude was extended to key figures and partners for their contributions to the success of the event, emphasizing the importance of teamwork and collaboration. Concluding remarks reaffirmed the commitment to building a healthier world and planet, highlighting the ongoing collaboration and action facilitated by local and national leaders in the Regional Hub and the Kathmandu Commitment. For those interested in getting involved, there will be ongoing opportunities to partner with local and national organizations, governments, and others…more to come!

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