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The World Health Organization (WHO), has appointed Dr Vanessa Kerry as the first-ever Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health.

Dr Kerry, who is the CEO of Seed Global Health, a renowned global health expert and medical doctor, will play a pivotal role in amplifying WHO’s climate and health messaging and undertake high-level advocacy.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who announced the appointment in Gneva today, said: “We are delighted to have Dr Vanessa Kerry join WHO as our Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health. Her extensive experience and dedication to public health make her an invaluable asset in addressing the health consequences of climate change. Together, we will work towards a more sustainable and resilient future for all.”

WHO Director-General, Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Climate change is emerging as the greatest health challenge of the 21st century, impacting various aspects of human well-being. Extreme weather events, noncommunicable and infectious diseases, as well as health infrastructure and workforce capacity, are all being significantly affected.

Dr Kerry will bring her invaluable expertise and leadership to the forefront in supporting WHO. As the Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health, Dr Kerry will undertake key responsibilities, including:

  • Amplifying WHO’s climate and health messaging, disseminating WHO’s crucial messages on the significance of climate change and health, targeting the general public, influential figures, and policymakers to ignite a widespread understanding and sense of urgency;
  • High-level advocacy for global impact, supporting WHO’s work and engage in global and regional organizations, national governments, in line with WHO’s expert guidance, foster the adoption and adaptation of WHO’s recommendations, while considering the unique contexts of local, national, and regional circumstances;
  • Provide strategic advice to the Director-General and decisionmakers, strengthening WHO’s position as a trusted and authoritative source of information and support, aligning with WHO’s own guidance;
  • She will assume a role in mobilizing resources to advance the work of the WHO, seeking out new partners and influential figures, including prominent personalities, recognizing their potential to lend their expertise and resources to amplify WHO’s initiatives.

“I am honoured to serve as the WHO Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health. The climate crisis is a health crisis – it poses a fundamental threat to global health, and urgent action is needed to mitigate and adapt against this complex challenge. Climate change is already wreaking havoc across the world – from the cholera outbreak in Malawi to heat-related illness in India – we must invest in strong health systems now which are resilient against these impacts. I will work with WHO and its partners to drive awareness, develop solutions and build consensus for action for a healthier future for everyone on this planet,” said Dr Kerry.

This is a crucial year for the intersection of climate change and health, with the COP28 Presidency announcing the first-ever day dedicated to health at the summit on 3 December 2023. This will serve as a critical opportunity to emphasize the profound significance of addressing climate change in relation to human health. Recognizing health at the forefront of climate discussions reinforces the vital role of collaboration and coordinated efforts to safeguard the well-being of current and future generations.

The appointment of Dr Vanessa Kerry as the WHO Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health underscores WHO’s commitment to prioritizing climate change and its impact on global health. Through her leadership, Dr Kerry will contribute to WHO’s work in shaping policies, fostering collaborations, and driving transformative action to protect and promote the health of populations in the face of climate challenges.

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