The increasing impacts of climate change pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of communities worldwide. The World Health Organization recognizes climate change as the most significant health threat to humanity. Climate change causes more frequent extreme weather events, disruption of food systems, and increases in food-, water- and vector-borne diseases. Moreover, it influences social determinants for good health, such as livelihoods, equality and access to social support structures. Climate change also disrupts access to primary health services as extreme weather events can impact supply chain, infrastructure, and migration patterns. These disruptions include sexual and reproductive (SRH) healthcare, which in turn impacts maternal and child health outcomes. It is projected that without effective climate mitigation strategies, an additional 77,000–131,000 deaths among children under 5 years of age will occur in 2030.
Impact of Community Health Workers
Living Goods partners with governments to support community health workers (CHWs) to have the tools, support, and knowledge they need to be successful and reach their full potential. For the past 15 years, we have helped optimize CHW performance using digital tools and data, and our approach has been validated by two Randomized Controlled Trials that have showed at least a 27% reduction in childhood mortality.
As essential members of the primary health workforce, Living Goods-supported CHWs in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Uganda are already playing a critical role in addressing the effects of climate change by building community resilience and mitigating health impacts on last mile communities. CHWs provide health education and promotion on issues including nutrition, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); assess, treat, and refer children under age 5 for malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia; deliver essential health services, including SRH services, and contribute significantly to strengthening health systems.
In 2022, we saw a severe drought in Isiolo, Kenya result in hunger reaching a nearly 40-year record high increasing the risk of malnutrition. Living Goods, with the county government was able to support CHWs to undertake a mass screening of children under age 5 and lactating mothers to determine their nutritional statuses, and link those needing treatment to facilities.
Additionally, researchers found that in the areas where Living Goods-supported CHWs in Uganda operate, there was a 46% reduction in under-five mortality compared to control areas following rainfall deficit seasons.
We are encouraged by these results and what they signal: that an effective CHW workforce significantly reduced the number of children who might have died due to drought, and that investing in improved community healthcare helps build climate resilience in low-income areas.
Living Goods’ Work in Areas Impacted by Climate Change
Enhancing access to SRH services plays a pivotal role in addressing climate change. Experts acknowledge that fulfilling SRH needs not only bolsters resilience but also empowers women and girls to actively engage in society, serving as agents of change in climate action initiatives. In Kenya, from June 2020 to present, Living Goods-supported CHWs reached more than 175,000 women with comprehensive family planning services, including 13,000 new users.
Similarly, in Uganda, from 2020 to present, Living Goods-supported CHWs reached over 315,000 women with more than 100,000 women being new users. This demonstrates CHWs’ ability to break down barriers to family planning services and information to reduce unmet need in the areas where Living Goods operates.
Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths annually from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. Living Goods-supported CHWs in Kenya conducted malaria tests for a cumulative total of almost 900,000 patients since 2021 and treated close to 135,000 for diarrhea. Similarly, in Uganda, Living Goods-supported CHWs cared for more than 1 million patients through malaria testing and assisted more than 575,000 patients with diarrhea since 2020.
Living Goods launched operations in Burkina Faso in January 2023, and by June, CHWs with Living Goods support had conducted 5,200 malaria tests and treated more than 3,700 malaria cases in the Ziniaré District. During the first half of 2023, these CHWs treated a total of 6,500 children for malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia in Ziniaré District, which is more than five times the number of cases compared to the same period in 2022. With these numbers expected to grow due to climate change, CHWs remain a lifesaving link between communities and health services.
Living Goods is committed to supporting government partners to strengthen community health systems to improve current health outcomes and prepare for the health challenges already being caused by climate change.
Key Data on Climate Change & Community Health
Health Systems Resilience
- Climate change greatly hinders achieving universal health coverage (UHC) by worsening disease burden and barriers to healthcare access, especially during critical times. Over 930 million people (12% of the world’s population) spend ≥10% of their budget on health. Around 100 million are pushed into poverty annually due to health costs, with climate change exacerbating this.
- The direct damage costs to health (i.e., excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion/year by 2030.
- Weather-related disasters have caused roughly 21 million displacements annually since 2008. Climate refugees encounter health risks before, during, and after migration with access to primary care and continuity of health care often disrupted due to migration.
- Adaptation investments in a low-income context in the form of improved access to community health care reduced the risk of infant mortality following adverse weather events.
- Investing in the CHW workforce – including the supplies they use to inform the community has proven an effective route in promoting community health resilience in the face of climate change.
- By 2050, disease-carrying mosquitoes will ultimately reach 500 million more people than they do today, increasing the threat of vector-borne zoonotic disease in regions.
- Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress.
Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH)
- The impacts of the climate crisis compound the water crisis that already risks the lives, health, and livelihoods of 1 in 10 people across the world.
- 771 million people lack nearby access to clean water due to droughts, floods, pollution, poor management, governance, and climate change is intensifying these issues, leading to more frequent extreme weather and disasters.
- Climate shocks can kill crops and livestock, degrade soils, damage infrastructure, and raise food prices. Warming temperatures, erratic rainfall and extreme weather events affect crop yield potential leading to increased food and financial insecurity.
- If the average global temperature rises by 2°C, an additional 189 million people are expected to be pushed into hunger. In a 4°C warmer world, this could reach 1.8 billion.
- LMICs in Africa and Southeast Asia are expected to experience the largest reductions in food availability due to climate change, leading to increased deaths attributed to underweight.
- Climate change, including inflated CO2 levels, reduces nutrients (zinc, iron, protein) in staple crops (wheat, corn, rice, soy), risking health in populations already experiencing nutrient deficiencies that contribute to diseases from maternal mortality to child brain development issues.