WHO is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Vanessa Kerry as the first-ever Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health. Dr Kerry, a renowned global health expert and medical doctor and CEO of Seed Global Health, will play a pivotal role in amplifying WHO’s climate and health messaging and undertake high-level advocacy.
“We are delighted to have Dr Vanessa Kerry join WHO as our Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health. Her extensive experience and dedication to public health make her an invaluable asset in addressing the health consequences of climate change. Together, we will work towards a more sustainable and resilient future for all,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, WHO.
Climate change is emerging as the greatest health challenge of the 21st century, impacting various aspects of human well-being. Extreme weather events, noncommunicable and infectious diseases, as well as health infrastructure and workforce capacity, are all being significantly affected.
Dr Kerry will bring her invaluable expertise and leadership to the forefront in supporting WHO. As the Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health, Dr Kerry will undertake key responsibilities, including:
- amplifying WHO’s climate and health messaging, disseminating WHO’s crucial messages on the significance of climate change and health, influential figures, and policymakers to ignite a widespread understanding and sense of urgency;
- undertaking high-level advocacy for global impact;
- supporting WHO’s work and engaging in the work of global and regional organizations and national governments, in line with WHO’s expert guidance;
- fostering the adoption and adaptation of WHO’s recommendations, while considering the unique contexts of local, national, and regional circumstances;
- providing strategic advice to the Director-General and decision-makers, strengthening WHO’s position as a trusted and authoritative source of information and support, aligning with WHO’s own guidance; and
- help mobilize resources to advance the work of WHO, seeking out new partners and influential figures, including prominent personalities, recognizing their potential to lend their expertise and resources to amplify WHO’s initiatives.
“I am honoured to serve as the WHO Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health. The climate crisis is a health crisis – it poses a fundamental threat to global health, and urgent action is needed to mitigate and adapt against this complex challenge. Climate change is already wreaking havoc across the world – from the cholera outbreak in Malawi to heat-related illness in India – we must invest in strong health systems now which are resilient against these impacts. I will work with WHO and its partners to drive awareness, develop solutions and build consensus for action for a healthier future for everyone on this planet,” said Dr Kerry.
This is a crucial year for the intersection of climate change and health, with the COP28 Presidency announcing the first-ever day dedicated to health at the summit on 3 December 2023. This will serve as a critical opportunity to emphasize the profound significance of addressing climate change in relation to human health. Recognizing health at the forefront of climate discussions reinforces the vital role of collaboration and coordinated efforts to safeguard the well-being of current and future generations.
The appointment of Dr Kerry as the WHO Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health underscores WHO’s commitment to prioritizing climate change and its impact on global health. Through her leadership, Dr Kerry will contribute to WHO’s work in shaping policies, fostering collaborations, and driving transformative action to protect and promote the health of populations in the face of climate challenges.
Note to editors
Dr Kerry is the co-founder and CEO of Seed Global Health (Seed), a non-profit organization focused on health systems strengthening and transformation through long-term investments and training of the health workforce. Under her leadership, Seed has helped educate more than 34 000 doctors, nurses, and midwives in seven countries, helping to improve health care for more than 73 million people.
She has spoken and written about the effects of climate change on human health and health systems and the need to integrate a health-centered response into climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. Dr Kerry is supporting the COP28 Presidency to shape the first-ever COP Day of Health and leading efforts to build advocacy around the impact of climate change on health and ensure equitable and just climate action.
She is a critical care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and is the associate director of partnerships and global initiatives at the MGH Center for Global Health. She directs the Global Public Policy and Social Change programme at Harvard Medical School, focusing on links between security and health. She is the mother of two children.