PRESS RELEASE | Doctors Urged to Lead the Way in Addressing Air Pollution, Plastics Crisis and Climate Change


Quezon City, Metro Manila - The National Children's Hospital and health justice organization, Health Care Without Harm, in observance of World Environment Day 2019, conducted a forum called, “Health Impacts of Climate Change, Air and Plastic Pollution” in order to understand how environmental issues are also health issues.  The forum aims to gather support from the health sector and the communities they serve to address three of the biggest environmental issues we face.

The National Children’s Hospital, being a public hospital, aims to be a health institution at the forefront of solving these crises.  Dr. Epifania Simbul, Hospital Administrator of NCH pointed out that, “The health sector including health institutions like our hospital must strive to lead the way in answering environmental problems that affect out health, especially if our own sector has been contributing to those problems.”
“It is time our sector becomes not just defender of people’s health, but defender of environmental health as well,” she added.

For his part, Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Energy Campaigner, Paeng Lopez stated that, "More and more we see different sectors like school children and scientists etc coming out of their comfort zones to chime in on different environmental issues, and the time has ripened for the health sector to finally pitch in their invaluable expertise to help frame and emphasize the ramifications of these problems to our health, and, of course, defend us from them."

On Air Pollution

In 2018, WHO published a global study on air pollution, and declared the problem as the "new tobacco".  The report revealed that air pollution – both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) – as the "biggest environmental risk to health, carrying responsibility for about one in every nine deaths annually."

Dr.  Jonathan Jadloc of the Philippine College of Physicians pointed out that, “Major pollutant Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5 microns) from black carbon continues to bring threat to health in Asia.  With no Asian city making it to the WHO target of 10ucg/m3, our Region is poised for a looming air crisis.  9 of the10 most polluted cities in the world are in Asia.  As by products from combustion industries, shipping, fire, indoor cooking and agriculture, PM 2.5 is responsible for estimated 4.1 million deaths annually from cardiovascular causes, stroke, respiratory diseases and cancer.  Together with ground level ozone, it balloons the death toll to 7 million.  Recent studies points PM 2.5 as the most consistent robust predictor of mortality from long term exposure.  It caused larger number of attributable deaths than well known risk factors such as alcohol use, physical inactivity and high sodium intake.  It also caused equivalent number attributable deaths as dyslipidemia and high BMI."

"As doctors in the forefront, we have the responsibility to share and propagate this big data and bring it to the consciousness of every patient in the community we serve.  Hospitals need to make this issue come alive by ensuring that the whole health organization is fully aware of the interconnectedness of air and health and that ensuring its quality is paramount in the whole spectrum of disease prevention," he added.

On Plastic Pollution

A few weeks ago, an expedition of marine scientists at the West Philippine Sea uncovered the extend of plastic pollution in the country when they discovered plastic waste floating around and deposited in some of our remotest islands.  Closer to people, in 2018, a small trial at the Medical University of Vienna found tiny shreds of plastics in the digestive systems of people from eight different countries including the UK.

“Unfortunately, in most health care facilities, wastes including plastics are incinerated releasing dioxins and furans in the air.  Those that end up in landfills degrade and become micro plastics, and then enters our ecosystems and eventually the human body,” laments Moresa Reyes of Health Care Without Harm’s Global Green and Health Hospitals program.

“So health facilities must be conscious of utilizing only necessary plastics in order to guard our health, and to stay true to their oath to do no harm,” she added.

On Climate Change

In 2015, one of the world's oldest and best known general medical journals, The Lancet, published a piece that declared Climate Change as, "The biggest global health threat of the 21st century."

Pediatric Pulmonologist Dr.  Agnes Mendoza pointed out that, "We, in the health sector must do something.  We can no longer just say it is up to our tireless environmentalists.  All of us from the health sector must take responsibility too since we took an oath to care for the health of the people.  Doctors, nurses, allied health professionals must take up the challenge.  Hospitals, clinics, and health centers must do something to address environmental problems that contribute to diseases.  It is about time we do this and the time is now.  We have a responsibility for helping maintain a healthy environment for the people we serve, our patients and our mother earth."

In addition, Dr. Glenn Roy Paraso, CEO of Mary Johnston Hospital observed that, "The globe represents a big hospital where nurturing relationships become key to healing.  Great relationships heal.  Healing the climate heals the planet, which heals the environment, which heals the people who will continue to heal the climate.  We are all connected, we are all related.  We heal each other. Together we come alive. Together we thrive."

Finally, Dr. Mendoza enjoined everyone "To recognize the things we do that contribute to the climate crisis or air pollution or plastic pollution - then let us take action to address them."###


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