Pacific climate health on the agenda: Hunt

Marnie Banger
Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia will strengthen climate-resilient policies in the Pacific

Health Minister Greg Hunt is facing pressure to put the health effects of climate change front and centre when he meets with counterparts from across the Pacific.

But the minister says Australia is already committed to strengthening climate-resilient health policies and programs in the region.

Pacific health ministers are this week gathering to discuss health challenges in French Polynesia's Pape'ete, with Mr Hunt joining them on Tuesday.

The visit comes after a report showed climate change is affecting people's health in Australia and the Asia Pacific in a myriad of ways.

Drawing on more than 100 pieces of research and policy analysis, the paper from the Global Health Alliance Australia shows how specific environmental changes are affecting various health conditions.

For instance, higher temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing pollen output, leading to more allergies and asthma attacks.

Changes in climatic patterns are also leading to lower crop yields, which reduces food availability and results in some people not getting enough nutrients in their diet.

The Public Health Association of Australia says the Pacific health ministers meeting - supported by the World Health Organisation - is an opportunity for Australia to show leadership on grappling with the issue.

That could include contributing to a strong Pacific climate health plan, and developing a similar plan for Australia specifically.

"The challenges of global warming on public health are not theoretical but keenly felt," PHAA chief executive Terry Slevin said.

Mr Hunt says Australia is already implementing a range of programs domestically to address health conditions which may be susceptible to environmental pressures.

It will also help its regional neighbours do the same through the government's "Pacific step-up" program, he said.

"Australia is committed to helping build climate-resilient health policy and programs in the Pacific," he told AAP in a statement.

Climate-resilient projects will be among those funded by the government's Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, the minister noted.

That comes as the government is spending more on development in the region than ever in 2019/20, with an estimated $1.4 billion to address the issues of greatest concern to the Pacific, including climate change.

Also on the agenda for the Pacific health ministers meeting - which began on Monday and runs until Thursday - is universal health coverage and health security.

So too is non-communicable diseases, immunisation and vaccine preventable diseases, water, sanitation and hygiene.