Climate change in Malta: new report

Climate change puts Malta at particular risk from flash-floods, water- and food-related hazards and (potentially) vector-borne diseases, according to a new report: “Health effects of climate change in the Maltese islands”, by the Environmental Health Directorate of Malta and WHO/Europe.

The report was launched in Malta this week at an event hosted by Dr Joseph Cassar, Minister for Health, the Elderly and Community Care of Malta, and attended by Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. At the event, Ms Jakab said, “I applaud the timeliness of this report, and would encourage us all to follow the book’s recommendations on adapting to climate change and supporting the segments of society that face the greatest risk.”

New agreement on collaboration

WHO/Europe and the Government of Malta have worked together on health projects for almost 20 years. The collaboration has been instrumental in providing funds and technical support for many projects, particularly on the environment and health.

While visiting Malta, Ms Jakab signed a new biennial collaborative agreement between WHO/Europe and the Government of Malta. Projects in 2010–2011 will focus on promoting health and development and preventing and reducing risk factors, strengthening the performance of the health system and promoting a healthier environment.

Noncommunicable diseases in Malta

Ms Jakab’s visit coincided with the launch of Malta’s new strategy to address noncommunicable diseases. Obesity is a particular concern: 31% of 13-year-olds are overweight or obese and, according to a 2008 survey, 45% of men and 28% of women were overweight. Malta has a high traffic density and a culture that promotes car ownership, with correspondingly low levels of walking and cycling and relatively high levels of road traffic injuries, particularly among young people.

Alcohol consumption by young people is also a concern. One study indicates that 25% of boys and 16% of girls had consumed alcohol 10 times or more in the previous 30 days.

The new Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases focuses on risks to health and promoting healthy behaviour through nonsmoking, a healthy diet and physical activity. It calls for commitment at all levels – among the general population, health care providers and non-health sectors – as well as political engagement.

Ms Jakab called the strategy “a good example of a thought-through comprehensive approach across sectors, targeting the main causes of ill health.”