Meet Vanessa Kerry: First-Ever WHO Director-General Special Envoy For Climate Change And Health


The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, June 22, 2023, appointed Dr Vanessa Kerry, a medical doctor, as the first-ever Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health. Dr Kerry, the CEO of Seed Global Health, a Massachusetts-based organisation which helps provide medical and nursing training support in resource-limited countries, will play an important role in expanding the WHO’s climate and health messaging. She will also undertake high-level advocacy, a statement released by the WHO said. 

Quoting Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-general, WHO, the statement said Dr Kerry’s extensive experience and dedication to public health make her an invaluable asset in addressing the health consequences of climate change. He wrote on Twitter that he looks forward to working together with Dr Kerry toward a more sustainable and resilient future for all. 

Dr Kerry tweeted that the climate crisis is a health crisis and urgent action is needed to drive awareness, invest in climate-smart health systems, and develop mitigation and adaptation solutions.

Dr Kerry’s responsibilities as the WHO Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health 

The responsibilities of Dr Kerry as the Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health include spreading WHO’s crucial messages on the significance of climate change and health, influential figures and policymakers to ensure a widespread understanding. She will also foster the adoption and adaptation of WHO’s recommendations, and consider the unique contexts of local, national and regional circumstances. 

Dr Kerry’s other responsibilities include undertaking high-level advocacy for global impact, helping mobilise resources to advance the work of WHO, recognising the potential of prominent personalities to lend their expertise and resources to amplify WHO’s initiatives, providing strategic advice to the Director-General and decision-makers, and strengthening WHO’s position as a trusted and authoritative source of information and support. 

Quoting Dr Kerry, the statement said climate change is already wreaking havoc across the world, and therefore, it is important to invest in strong health systems which are resilient against the health impacts of climate change. She cited heat-related illnesses in India as one of the negative impacts of climate change on health. 

More about Dr Kerry

Dr Kerry’s leadership has helped Seed educate more than 34,000 doctors, nurses and midwives in seven countries. This has helped improve healthcare for more than 73 million people. 

According to the WHO, Dr Kerry has spoken and written about the effects of climate change on human health and health systems, and the need to integrate health-centred response into climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. 

Dr Kerry is a critical care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and directs the Global Public Policy and Social Change programme at Harvard Medical School. She focuses on the links between security and health.

Why it is important to understand the link between climate change and health 

Climate change, which is emerging as the greatest health challenge of the 21st century, has been negatively affecting human well-being, inducing extreme weather events, and resulting in an increase in infectious and non-communicable diseases. Health infrastructure and workforce capacity are also affected, the WHO said.

The year 2023 is a crucial year for the intersection of climate change and health. On December 3, 2023, the COP28 Presidency will announce the first-ever day dedicated to health at the summit. According to the WHO, a day dedicated to health at the climate summit will serve as a critical opportunity to emphasise the profound significance of addressing climate change in relation to human health, and recognising health at the forefront of climate discussions will ensure the well-being of the current and future generations. 

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