Bridging the Knowledge Gap Between Planet and Human Health with Daniella Foster

Children Running

While every company must do their part to reduce their environmental footprint, these commitments should not be looked at in isolation.

The health of our planet is directly tied to human health. However, this idea is not commonly identified in climate change dialogue and action plans. At Bayer, we’re changing that, and we recently sat down with Daniella Foster, SVP & Global Head, Public Affairs, Science & Sustainability, Consumer Health, to tell us more. For us, sustainability means not only creating innovative solutions that contribute to a healthier world, but also empowering access to the essential health and nutrition people need to live healthier lives. 


What impact is climate change currently having on the health of humanity? 

“Forty percent of the world’s population is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and most of the people in this group live in the countries least responsible for causing it. What’s also startling is that climate change is one of this group’s least immediate concerns. These communities lack access to health care, struggle with food insecurity and water scarcity, and generally have difficulty meeting basic needs.” Putting Health at the Center of Climate Change, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Oct 2022

We see this in a range of health issues.  For instance, warmer temperatures can increase the spread of vector borne diseases – think diseases spread by mosquitos or ticks.  The warm weather helps  these “vectors” survive and breed.  Increased rainfall can also increase the amount of standing water, which creates even more breeding grounds.  That’s why we’re seeing an increase in diseases like Chagas, West Nile Virus and malaria.

The impact of climate change can also be seen in day-to-day situations that probably hit closer to home for most. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and is exacerbated by extreme weather. When your body gets too hot, it makes your heart work harder. This can cause high blood pressure and blood clots, which can trigger heart attacks and heat stroke, especially among people with underlying health conditions.

Or, pollen allergies, which have increased in frequency and severity over the last few decades due to climate change. Warmer weather and increased carbon dioxide in the environment aid the growth of pollen-producing trees, which can now grow faster and produce more pollen then earlier in the century.” Climate Action or Human Action?, Diplomatic Courier, Nov 2021


How can policymakers and companies stop thinking about climate change in isolation and consider its effects on human health?

“Only one-fifth of the world’s largest companies have committed to a net zero target. The concerns are consistent—costs, time, and capabilities. But, what if we flipped the conversation and made it about the people? Talk to governments about helping create resilient communities and the financial savings towards health systems. Message companies about improved productivity and overall well-being of their workers. This could escalate the urgency to act—it’s not just about a far-off forecast, it’s about protecting our health and future-proofing humanity.

But we also need to think pragmatically about how we can help people take care of their health in the near term. The Global Self-Care Federation, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), released the Self-Care Readiness Index, a tool that can help our hospitals, our healthcare systems, and our world become healthier and more sustainable. The tool explores the four key enablers of self-care as a way to embed self-care as a part of the healthcare continuum and guide the creation of solutions to help people transform their personal health. Self-care and heath literacy programs can offer a lifeline to people living in communities that are impacted by climate change and don’t have access to healthcare.”


What role can a company’s sustainability commitments play in ensuring environmental and human health are addressed in tandem?

While every company must do their part to reduce their environmental footprint, these commitments should not be looked at in isolation.  Social commitments can often hold the key to how we can also drive climate action AND create better lives for all people both in the short- and long-term. If we fail at this, if we overlook or undervalue the “S” in ESG, then we will fail at the whole of ESG.

Healthcare companies have a huge opportunity to help tackle global health challenges. According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050 climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. Moreover, the direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between $2-4 billion per year by 2030.” Don’t Underestimate the “S” in ESG Investing, Diplomatic Courier, January 2022


Can you talk about the impact of Nutrient Gap Initiative as the two-year anniversary approaches?  What makes Bayer’s partnership with Vitamin Angels stand out from others?

The Nutrient Gap Initiative is our commitment to expand access to vitamins and minerals for 50 million people in underserved communities by 2030.  One in three people in our world are surviving on diets lacking the essential vitamins and minerals needed to grow properly, live healthy lives and raise a healthy family.  

Women and children are particularly vulnerable, especially when it comes to prenatal nutrition.  So, as a part of The Nutrient Gap Initiative, we’ve partnered with public health NGO Vitamin Angels to expand access to Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation (prenatal vitamins), which has been scientifically proven to improve birth outcomes and is a part of the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicine List.

“What I think is truly special here is that unlike most partnerships in this space, we're really looking to address the long-term and structural barriers to accessing micronutrients through the intervention component, the health education component, and the advocacy component.

Even within interventions — or what you might think about as donations — within this program, they're unique because they are true interventions, meaning there is a 180-day intervention for pregnant women that is coupled with health education and also engagement with local governments to create long-term sustainable change and also a pathway to drive access in that community over the long term.

Through this partnership, we impact approximately 4 million women and children annually around the world, in every single region, from Latin America to Africa to Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and even in underserved communities in the U.S.

Q&A: New partnership set to close the micronutrient gap, Devex, Feb 4, 2021

6 min read