Carenews Interview of Foundation S with Daouda Diouf, Head of the Climate Action and Health Resilience at Foundation S.

Extreme weather events are coming and going, but what do we know about the health impacts of climate change? And how can philanthropy help?

Least developed countries, which have weaker health systems, are more vulnerable to climate change. They have been impacted by pandemics that have existed for 30 years and Covid-19 has finished weakening systems.

Extreme weather events and health: how can we manage these new risks?

As stated by the WHO secretary general: the climate crisis is a health crisis. For the past few years, extreme and devastating climate-related weather events have been occurring frequently, in areas including Bangladesh, Pakistan and even the United States. The link of these events to the ongoing climate crisis are well documented, but little is known about the direct impacts on our health. We spoke with Daouda Diouf, head of the Climate Action and Health Resilience pillar at Foundation S, the new philanthropic organization of Sanofi, to better understand the urgency of this issue and the responses that philanthropy can provide.

Floods, droughts, cyclones: heavy symptoms of a growing health crisis

As the months and years pass, extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity. In May 2022, the temperature in Jacobabad, Pakistan, rose to 51 degrees, and subsequently from June to September unprecedented floods put a third of the country under water, destroying large amounts of crops and devastating the livelihoods of farmers.

Not far away, in Bangladesh, more than four million people were trapped by floods during the same monsoon period. According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about 17% of Bangladesh's 160 million people will have to leave their homes within a decade if rising temperatures do not stop.

We also remember the "Black Summer" between 2019 and 2020 in Australia: 186,000 km2 of land was destroyed by extreme wildfires, endangering countless species. 33 men and women died in the fires, with at least an additional 450 deaths that were attributed to smoke inhalation.

According to The Lancet, heat-related deaths increased by 68% between 2000-04 and 2017-21. At the same time, the number of months conducive to malaria transmission increased by 31.3% in the mountainous regions of the Americas and 13.8% in the mountainous regions of Africa between the 1950s and 2010s. It is evident that the link between climate change and health is no longer a question, but the necessary corrective actions are sorely lacking.

"The least developed countries, which have less robust health systems, are more vulnerable to climate change. They have been impacted by pandemics that have existed for 30 years and COVID-19 has weakened systems that were not that solid," explains Daouda Diouf, head of the Climate Action and Health Resilience pillar of Foundation S - The Sanofi Collective.

An urgent need has emerged: to place health at the heart of climate action. But there is a lack of scientific data to support this advocacy.

"There is a kind of desert. For example, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reviewed 1,682 articles. Only two really measure the impact of climate change on health," Diouf said.

However, among the health impacts observed in those articles, there is a global increase in malaria and the emergence of dengue epidemics, including in developed countries. Foundation S - The Sanofi Collective has therefore chosen to make the underrepresented issue of climate change & health a priority by starting a collective call to action.

Foundation S's action: document and influence globally, act locally

Grounded in its “Think and Do-Tank” logic, Foundation S has identified that the first step is to help people document the health consequences of the climate events that are taking place, in order to better make the link with other researchers and institutions interested in the subject. The foundations first call to action will be a white paper illustrating why the climate crisis is a health crisis and how investment in adaptation projects and the health sector is an urgently needed response.

Building on data and engaging in policy dialogue: a priority

"Until now, climate change interventions have focused on mitigation in rich countries that contribute more to pollution. Very few have focused on populations that pollute less and suffer more from climate change," Diouf says. "We need to balance policies so that we can focus as much on limiting pollution as on community adaptation. The data will feed into the advocacy and proposals we will need to make. However, advocacy is not enough; we also need to engage in policy dialogues so that the global agenda can change."

Developing local and customized responses

At the endowment level, this data will also feed into the targeting action of the Foundation’s Do Tank's. "We will support direct actions with immediate impact that will enable people to protect themselves from the dangers of climate change while also identifying the responses that are already working in order to scale them up. We often forget that the best experiences are also empirical. The role of science and researchers is to help conceptualize them, capitalize on them and make them intelligible," he says.

Call for projects to first help the most vulnerable populations

To bring these ideas to life, starting in January 2023, Foundation S will launch a call for projects prioritizing regions most vulnerable to climate change, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. While also focusing on the most vulnerable populations, especially women, children, and isolated communities. These populations areas are distinguished by their weak health systems combined with their high-risk of climate events such as advancing desertification or unprecedented levels of rainfall. "This has created a more favorable breeding ground for a number of health problems, including diarrheal diseases, cholera episodes. In areas where responses to malaria were quite effective, we have seen resurgence of the disease because of poverty and lack of means to deal with it," says Diouf.

On-the-ground partners

Foundation S will also partner with actors on the ground who are already working with community leaders, as well as with local governments. "As they say, 'nothing for us without us.' It's important that there is ownership in everything we do. The basic principle is 'locally-led'." Foundation S can then offer them various forms of support, whether it be financial, by providing its expertise and knowledge, or facilitating connections with partners.

Given the urgency of this issue, Foundation S is leveraging a collective approach. "We are still in the take-off phase. We're going to take it slow and methodical," says Diouf. However, the fund is already supporting a healthcare access program in Bangladesh run by the organization Friendship, where isolated communities are able to receive healthcare treatment via a boat and mobile health clinic. Several requests from Africa are also under consideration.

"We will focus in late 2022 on raising awareness of Foundation S, its strategic directions and the opportunities we have to support actions on the ground," concludes Diouf. "We will continue to bring Foundation S' voice to policy dialogues so that decision makers understand the urgency of taking action on climate change and health."