From infectious disease research to climate change bootcamp: why I got involved in the College’s Climate Change Working Group

Dr Dayo Ajayi-Obe is a Consultant Paediatrician at Hammersmith Hospital and a member of the international stream of the College’s Climate Change Working Group. In her blog, she details her experiences in research and the links between climate change and the spread of infectious diseases.
Dr Dayo Ajayi-Obe

My interest in climate change and getting involved with the College's Climate Change Working Group (known as the CCWG) lies in the link between climate change and infectious disease epidemics. My awareness of the issue began in the 90’s, stimulated by two indelible observations of the changing epidemiology of malaria and meningococcal infections in sub–Saharan Africa at the time.  

My research on cerebral malaria in children in Nigeria emerged from the alarmingly abrupt rise in not only indigenous children, but adolescents presenting in a coma. Theories proffered at the time included not only the emergence of antimalarial drug resistance, but also climate change. Malaria transmission is generally reduced during the dry season and immunity is based on sustained exposure during the rainy seasons. Therefore, a longer dry season could theoretically reduce malarial immunity in the indigenous population, in turn making them more susceptible to severe malaria presentations. 

In the meningitis belt of sub-Saharan Africa, annual meningococcal surges occur during the dry windy harmattan seasons, interspersed with expressive 8-to-12-year cyclical large epidemics. These surges and cyclical epidemics are abruptly interrupted by the onset of the annual rainy season. In 1996, the large epidemic breached the traditional boundaries of the belt extending south and affecting populations in areas that traditionally had never been affected. Possible associations with climate change included drought, which was preceded by the drought years of the 70s-80s and contributed to the famine in Ethiopia and the notable expansion of the Sahara Desert in Africa. I was involved as a volunteer and later a WHO consultant managing this catastrophic meningococcal epidemic. 

Climate change bootcamp!

More recently, I participated in an intense three week climate change bootcamp whose focus was on developing effective climate and environmental leaders that would contribute to the development of action plans for their organisations. The initiative was jointly created by the Harvard Alumni Climate, Environment Special Interest Group and the Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s foundation (Climate Reality Project.) 

The course went beyond the science of climate change and provided proven strategies, approaches, and tools to help develop personal and organizational action plans. The programme aimed to weave consistent themes from over 40 speakers in varied disciplines and a curation of material, on win-win situations for organisations transforming to sustainability, environmental justice focusing on the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. A core theme was the ‘Hero’s journey’ which is a transformational narrative that underlies many cultural stories where the hero perseveres and succeeds despite obstacles and setbacks. The tasks outlined were for organisations to set science-based emission reduction targets, develop an implementation plan, switch to purchasing 100% clean energy and clean cars by 2035 with interim targets and maximising energy efficient measures.

As a data driven person, I was particularly interested in the iterative carbon accounting exercise and its use as a benchmark for formulating measurable strategic goals that drive change at an organisational level.  

About the CCWG

It has been a privilege to be part of the climate change working group so far. Over the last seven months in the build up to COP26 we have already produced a position statement for the College and written an editorial which has been published in the Archives of Diseases of Childhood. 

The aim of the College is to engage all our members, as advocates and our parents and caregivers, on the climate change journey of creating a sustainable world for not only the children we care for now in our clinics and hospitals, but future generations.

Find out more about the Climate Change Working Group