Climate Change Impacting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of Marginalised Women in Lao PDR

December 11, 2018 shutterstock_1152916001

By Dr. Vanphanom Sychareun

Dean of the Faculty of Postgraduate Studies, University of Health Sciences, Vientiane, Lao PDR


Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century with impacts both directly and indirectly on human health particularly women, children and the elderly who require adaptation strategies in the face of shifting in weather patterns and the resulting environmental phenomena.  Climate change affects human health by degrading the quality of air and water, food security, and shelter, all of which are indispensable to maintaining health. The impact of global warming has increased the risk of disease outbreaks, which are highly sensitive to climate change and weather events, including urban air pollution, cholera diarrhoea, malaria, malnutrition and natural disasters combined.

Lao PDR has a policy to collaborate with countries and organizations in the region as well as globally to develop a strong partnership to find solutions to reduce global warming, and adapt to an increased global temperature and the impact of climate change (CC). In Lao PDR, CC has impacted various sectors including reducing food production, increasing health problems and communicable and non-communicable diseases after natural disasters. Due to underdeveloped healthcare service delivery in many rural and remote areas, knowledge and understanding of the impact of CC particularly on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women is limited in Lao PDR. CC impacts on women’s sexual and reproductive health include low birth weight, miscarriages, still births, and increased mother and child mortality rate.

Based on a recent study on CC and SRHR in Lao PDR, the knowledge and awareness of CC as well as the need for SRHR of women to be included in public health disaster planning strategy is very limited in Lao PDR. Climate change policymakers from the national to local village level and marginalised women demonstrated limited knowledge and understanding of how climate change impacts health and SRHR. The disaster response committee at the national level is not fully equipped to minimise negative health outcomes as a result of climate change. It is crucial for all relevant ministries and authorities to discuss and address climate change issues and health outcomes particularly SRHR services in the marginalised and remote areas to avoid the future burden of reduced mortality rate among reproductive age and pregnant women.

The researchers provided some recommendations to key policymakers on climate change and future research:

  • There is a need to develop a multilevel communication system for policymakers from different ministries to integrate climate change intervention strategies into the national climate change policy to reduce existing vulnerabilities and health outcomes.
  • Increase public awareness by getting media involved in CC awareness raising and health outcomes, particularly the importance of strengthening access to SRHR services in non-disaster times and providing services prior, during, and after disaster events.
  • There is a need to build capacity and strengthen the community level climate change adaptation and mitigation measures to prepare communities for enhanced and efficient natural resources management, particularly food security and access to primary healthcare services as well as SRHR.

Recommendations for Future Research

  • Future research needs to be conducted with different groups of women from diverse cultural and ethnical backgrounds including those with disabilities and young people to better understand existing vulnerabilities.
  • Increase research on SRHR & CC among marginalised groups, as well as comprehensive studies on gender-differentiated impacts of climate change with particular focus on the difference in capabilities to cope with climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.
  • Increase research collaboration and networking with regional and global networks to increase opportunities for research, knowledge exchange, and raise awareness on climate change and its impacts on health outcomes and SRHR.

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