In his text “Epidemics,” Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, commanded doctors to perform two things: to do good and to do no harm. While doing good to our patients – eradicating disease, alleviating suffering, providing comfort – has been at the core of the health sector’s enterprise, there is a need to enhance our work in doing no harm – not just to our patients, but to the broader environment which sustains our health and wellbeing.
Today, the global community is facing the challenge of climate change, which has been described in 2009 by the medical journal The Lancet as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Indeed, countries with the highest vulnerability to climate change such as the Philippines are already experiencing not just its environmental and social impacts, but also grave health effects such as increase in spread of climate-sensitive infectious diseases as well as rise in morbidity and mortality due to extreme weather events such as typhoons and flooding.
For instance, in 2013 the Philippines was struck by Typhoon Haiyan, considered the strongest typhoon to ever hit land in recorded history, which killed nearly 7,000 lives and affected approximately 1 out of 5 Filipinos. On the other hand, the prolonged drought in Kidapawan is taking a toll on the welfare of farmers and communities, worsening hunger, and even resulting in the violation of fundamental human rights.
The good news is that we can retell the story of climate change from one of crisis into that of an opportunity, from dwelling on the health impacts of climate change to highlighting how the health sector can make a positive impact in climate action.
In 2015, The Lancet published another report saying that “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.” Indeed, the health community has a vital role to play in adapting to climate change, by building resilient health systems, enhancing capacity for responding to disasters, and improving surveillance of climate-sensitive diseases.
Furthermore, the health sector also can make a positive contribution in mitigating climate change. Hospitals and other health facilities can reduce their own carbon footprint by using solar power, LED lights, natural ventilation and lighting, proper waste management, green building design, and other strategies articulated in Health Care Without Harm’s Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Agenda.
In addition, health professionals can be a powerful advocate for climate mitigation strategies that have huge public health co-benefits, such as cutting our reliance on fossil fuels and shifting to healthy renewable energy, which the Healthy Energy Initiative is pushing for. This is of particular relevance for the Philippines, which, despite its enormous vulnerability to disasters, continues to build more coal-fired power plants that produce greenhouse gases and worsen climate change, as depicted in this short film “The Big Show.”
In commemoration of Earth Day, this coming April 23, Saturday, 9:00 pm Manila time, join #HealthXPh and Health Care Without Harm-Asia, an international environmental health organization, in examining the role of health professionals and health systems in addressing climate change and doing “no harm” on both people and planet.
T1. What strategies can enable the health sector to adapt to the effects of climate change?
T2. How can the health sector reduce its carbon footprint to mitigate worsening climate change?
T3. How can we use our health voice in advocating for climate-friendly and healthy energy alternatives?
Don’t forget our hashtags #HealthXPh, #DoNoHarm, and #EarthDay2016!!!