- In Kenya, climate change is contributing to an increased incidence of vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever
- Extreme weather events such as floods and droughts also impact the availability and quality of water resources
By Doris Kathia
Climate change is a global challenge that poses significant threats to human health and well-being. In Kenya, the impacts of climate change are being felt in various sectors, including agriculture, water resources, and health. As the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events increase, so does the risk of disease outbreaks and health burdens on communities. Women, particularly in their reproductive age, are amongst the most vulnerable populations affected by climate change.
In Kenya, climate change is contributing to an increased incidence of vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and Rift Valley fever. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2019, there were 229 million cases of malaria worldwide, with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 94% of all cases. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns have expanded the range of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, exposing more people to the disease. The Kenyan highlands, previously considered unsuitable for malaria transmission, have experienced epidemics due to changing climate patterns.
Extreme weather events such as floods and droughts also impact the availability and quality of water resources, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. In 2017, more than 4,000 cholera cases were reported in Kenya, with 76 deaths.
Women in Kenya are disproportionately affected by climate change due to existing gender inequalities and their traditional roles in society. Women often bear the primary responsibility for collecting water, fuel, and food, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on natural resources.
For instance, during periods of drought, women might have to travel long distances to collect water, which increases the risk of gender-based violence and leaves them with less time for income-generating activities or education. Additionally, inadequate access to water and sanitation facilities, exacerbated by climate change, can lead to poor menstrual hygiene management, putting women at risk of reproductive tract infections and limiting their mobility during menstruation.
Furthermore, climate change has been linked to an increase in pregnancy complications, such as preterm birth and low birth weight, due to heat stress and malnutrition. Pregnant women exposed to extreme heat have a higher risk of developing preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition for both the mother and the baby. Further, providing women with access to family planning services can help reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change on sexual and reproductive health. Family planning can help women space their pregnancies, reducing the risk of maternal and infant mortality and improving their resilience to climate-related stresses.
To mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on health and women’s sexual and reproductive health, Kenya can draw inspiration from best practices implemented in other countries to deal with climate change and particularly its impact on sexual and reproductive health. For instance, countries like Bangladesh have invested in climate-resilient healthcare infrastructure, including constructing flood-resistant health centers and providing solar-powered medical equipment. Kenya can invest in similar infrastructure to ensure that healthcare services remain accessible during extreme weather events. Additionally, Costa Rica has implemented an early warning system for vector-borne diseases, which uses climate data to predict disease outbreaks and inform public health interventions. Kenya can develop similar systems to help prevent and control the spread of diseases during extreme weather events.
Ms. Kathia is a communications consultant, and Sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) youth advocate at NAYA Kenya. (email@example.com)