ACSIS-ASMPH holds Climate Change Talk for Public Health

On November 3,2015,  Dr. Renzo Guinto held a talk titled “First, Do No Harm” at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH). He is a campaigner from Health Care Without Harm-Asia, a global organization that campaigns for the ecological sustainability and greening of the health sector.
The talk was organized by the Standing Committee of Public Health (SCOPH) of the Advocates for Consciousness and Social Involvement Society (ACSIS) as part of its Public Health projects. ACSIS is a student-led organization in the ASMPH dedicated in exposing its members to socially relevant issues, and providing them with opportunities to discover their own personal advocacies, such as public and environmental health.

 “Considering the obvious and serious impact on health, as experienced by various people in the country and in the different parts of the globe, we [at ACSIS] believe that people should be more aware of the impact of climate change as a public health issue,” said Liza Melendrez (YL7), the Officer for Public Health of ACSIS and the event coordinator. “Mitigating climate change is important, not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the public health, as these two are inevitably linked. ACSIS organized this talk to ensure that medical students are aware of their roles and responsibilities in the protection of both public and environmental health.”
Planetary health
In his talk, Dr. Guinto used the framework of Planetary Health, which ties together the health of humanity with the health of the environment, and the natural systems on which these two depends.
“We [in the health sector] seldom look at climate change as a public health concern,” Dr. Guinto said. “Instead, we got stuck in the economic and climate [discourses].” According to him, this should not be the case since climate change has many effects on human health, which may range from the increasing prevalence of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, to the dangers of heat stress and air pollution.
Dr. Guinto also illustrated the unfair distribution of these health impacts by comparing cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases, which were higher in developed countries, to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates ofper capita mortality from climate change, which were greater in less developed nations.

 He emphasized that “climate change will not only create new diseases but also exacerbate existing ones, and may even trigger the return of some [of the extinct/ cured ones].” He then mentioned how this could be very problematic and challenging for the members of the health sector of these developing nations, which will include the students of the ASMPH in the future; and as such, better preparation and more actions must to be taken for definite improvement.
Agenda for health and climate
To further illustrate the relationship between climate change and public health, Dr. Guinto cited a 2015 edition of The Lancet that stated that “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity for the 21st century”, which he compared to the 2009 The Lancet article that declared that climate change is the biggest threat that our world is facing.
He then talked about his four-point agenda for health and climate that included concepts within and beyond the scope of the health sector; all of which were underlined by the concepts of adaptation and mitigation.
“Adaptation”, as described by Dr. Guinto, “is for responding to the impacts and effects.” The health sector, in his opinion, should be building systems that are both responsive and resilient to the needs of the country. He mentioned examples of medical schools usually affected and damaged by the various climate catastrophes that plagued the country, and how these disasters tend to set the medical profession and the country back. Building resilient health systems is an agenda point for within the health sector, while monitoring health impacts of climate change is for beyond.
Mitigation, on the other hand, is for reducing or preventing the adverse effects of climate change on health. As stated by Doc Guinto, within its own scope, the health sector can help mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on public health by minimizing its own ecological footprint. Dr. Guinto shared examples of health facilities in the Philippines engaging in regenerative health care, which aims “to repair and restore what has been destroyed because of [the health sector’s] practices.” One such effort is a hospital in Calamba, Laguna that uses solar power to generate electricity for their consumption. A beyond-the-sector agenda point then for mitigation is to advocate for measures for its health co-benefits.

ASMPH students pose with Dr. Guinto.
ASMPH students pose with Dr. Guinto.

 Dr. Guinto concluded the discussion by highlighting the importance of working across all sectors and looking at issues with different lenses, especially with a problem as big as climate change. At the end of the day, he emphasized that climate-friendly policies are, by and large, health policies as well. And as medical professionals, we are expected to “do no harm” not just by preventing medical accidents to our patients, but also by pushing for climate friendly and healthy policies for the betterment of everyone.