Towards consolidating the Nigerian health policies on climate change


In November 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari at the World Leaders’ Summit of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, United Kingdom, expressed the commitment of Nigeria to cut its carbon emission to net-zero by 2060. Upon returning to Nigeria, he then signed the Climate Change Act. Most importantly, the act provides for the mainstreaming of climate change actions, the facilitation of environmental and economic accounting and the establishment of a National Council on Climate Change. Carbon forms an important component of the gasses called greenhouse gasses (such as carbon dioxide and methane) that trap heat and cause climate change through global warming.

In 2016 for instance, an increase of 0.70 % (578,039 tons) carbon dioxide emissions was added to the established 82,056,175 ton emissions for 2015. This may account for the increase in environmental temperature of about 0.2 oC – 0.3 oC per decade in the various ecological zones of Nigeria, and also the persistence of drought and excess rainfall in most parts of the North and South, respectively since the late 1960s. A famous negative consequence associated with climate change in Nigeria is the drying up of Lake Chad in Borno State.

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The high environmental temperatures in many Nigerian cities and towns during the hot season is sometimes fatal to the health of humans, predisposing to physical and mental illnesses. A deteriorating state is expected in the coming years as a result of climate change. To prepare for this challenge, there is the need to generate local information on how Nigerians adjust internally (physiologically and genetically) during persistent heat wave, taking into consideration, individual differences based on social status, geographical region of origin and residence. Most often, Nigeria relies on such health data generated by international organisations to understand events happening in the country or to formulate policy documents. This practice may not be productive for efficient health policy implementation, given our unequalled genetic and environmental features.

There is a wide unbridged gap between the direct impact of environmental conditions (whether caused by climate change or not) and human health. This is different from few existing studies linking climate change or stressors in Nigeria to rising prevalence of cerebro-spinal meningitis, skin cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular and respiratory disorders in elderly people. The appealing gap is in the direct biological response to our tropical climate as influenced by gender, age, social status, genetic and adaptive features; in consonance with the well-established data on cold adaptation in temperate climates.

The National Policy on Climate Change paid significant attention to the grievous impact of climate change on human and livestock health, but is silent on the health of companion animals. Efficient implementation of the National Policy on Climate Change is dependent on availability of local data collected with cognisance of our natural and anthropogenic uniqueness in different States of the Federation.

This would make adequate the development and implementation of health adaptation goals for future ameliorative and mitigation plans according to occupation, geographical location and social status, thus, preventing or reducing the severity of complications that may lead to diseases or death.

Although a significant vacuum remains unfilled on how to reduce the greenhouse gas from livestock and decomposing abattoir waste in Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello University and other institutions in the country have published a number of research data on livestock adaptation, as well as the negative impact and mitigation of climate-induced stress. The National Action Plan on Gender and Climate Change for Nigeria (NAPGCCN) is to serve as a guide for states and local governments to mainstream gender concerns to address climate change challenges in Nigeria. Despite the fact that the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is a co-sponsor of the NAPGCCN document, the document is relatively mute on livestock health.

Both in animals and humans, cumulative data over several decades on endogenous response to hot climate have not been pulled to distinctively reflect the threat of climate change on health. It is speculated that if adequate measures are not taken to ameliorate the impact of climate change on the health of livestock, some animals with high productivity genes, but poorly adapted to heat, may become extinct. Huge economic loss in the livestock sector, probably in billions of naira, is associated with the rising ambient temperature during the month of April and May, which corresponds to the peak of the hot season.

Recently, an increase in intensity and duration of the heat season has been noticed, leading to increase in mortality and cost of amelioration using antioxidant drugs to correct/reduce the endogenous abnormalities caused by climatic stress. This has reduced the profitability of livestock production and affected the morale of farmers, especially women, who customarily manage poorly-ventilated backyard poultry farms. This has stepped-up the importation and sales of antioxidant drugs or cocktail of drugs/feed supplements containing antioxidants in veterinary pharmacies across the country.

This is unlike in humans, where the use of antioxidants to ameliorate the menace of climatic stress is not exceptional, likely due to scarcity of local research data on the endogenous damage effectuated by climatic stressors on apparently healthy individuals. With global warming, the excruciating health impacts are expected to geometrically increase in developing tropical nations, including Nigeria; owing to factors not limited to: low affordability of air conditioning system, epileptic power supply, poor ventilation in houses, paucity of research on environmental physiology and poor advocacy on the effect of climate change on human and animal health.

Moreover, high environmental temperature will favour the survival and multiplication of pathogens and vectors such as mosquitoes, houseflies, cockroaches, ticks and fleas, thus increasing the prevalence of endemic diseases in humans and animals. This may have partly informed the decision of Conference of Parties 21 (COP21; 2015) in Paris for industrialised nations to pay $100bn annually by 2020 to help developing countries decarbonise their economies.

In harmony with the Nigerian national policy documents, human health programmes and policies should focus on mainstreaming of adaptation strategies in public health services, improving the understanding of the adverse effects, developing more efficient medical-ameliorative measures and engaging public awareness on the impacts of climate change on human health.

With respect to animal health, the focus should be on improving ameliorative measures, developing animal types (breeds) with greater heat resilience, awareness creation on the impacts of climate change on animal productivity and the development of a pool of thermoregulatory genes for future biotechnological improvement.

The yet to be constituted National Council on Climate Change must encourage the funding of ground-breaking research to support efficient implementation of these national adaptation goals. Having access to pertinent data or information is key in decision-making across the health sectors, and generating these data is the responsibility of the environmental physiologists and the human/veterinary medical doctors.These professionals across Nigeria should work collectively with concerned authorities to actualise these set of national and international objectives. The time to start is now.

Habibu Buhari
Dr. Habibu lectures in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. | | + posts
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