Experts and officials from the Department of Health (DOH), Climate Change Commission, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID),called for concerted efforts to improve air quality in the Philippines and mitigate its effects on lung health.
In a webinar organized by non-profit human development organization FHI 360, Climate Change Commissioner Atty. Rachel Anne Herrera pointed out the impact of poor air quality on Filipinos and the country’s economy. She also discussed the need to talk the same language among concerned agencies and “break down silos” towards developing green technologies necessary for climate-resilient communities and health facilities, with the help of the private sector.
“An estimated 66,000 Filipinos die every year due to poor air quality and the economic cost of ambient air pollution is 4.5 trillion pesos, roughly equivalent to 87 billion US dollars. And this is 23 percent of the country's GDP (gross domestic product) in 2019,” said Herrera, citing a study by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
Dr. Rosalind Vianzon of the DOH-Health Promotion Bureau highlighted the importance of research that will guide climate and health professionals in working together. She identified crucial factors like advocacy, healthy settings, integration and partnerships, and innovation and technology.
Dr. Kendra Chittenden, senior infectious disease advisor of USAID Bureau for Asia, echoed a similar point on research, specifically one that will show the impact of air quality on lung health as “immensely important.”
“Looking at communities and taking real-life situations in trying to look at the impact of air pollution when there are so many other factors that drive people’s health is very challenging,” said Dr. Chittenden. “Countries, like the Philippines across Asia, have the capability of such strong research organizations as the academic sector is working really closely with the ministries of health and you have this sort of multisectoral approach working with climate change and environmental experts. So it’s a really great opportunity for the Philippines to continue to contribute to this.”
When asked about concrete actions that the government is taking to address the problem, Atty. Herrera of the Climate Change Commission said legislators are eyeing to update the Clean Air Act of 1999. Several national agencies are also working on a framework to strengthen the health sector and in turn “protect the most vulnerable” in society. She added that the commission continues to regularly train local government units to identify sources of greenhouse gas within their jurisdiction and address them efficiently.
Michelle Lang-Alli, director of USAID Philippines’ Office of Health, also pushed for “very strong and sustained collaborative partnership towards addressing environmental issues” that would support the elimination of tuberculosis or TB in the Philippines. “Broad-scale evidence has shown the significant association between ambient air pollutants and the development of TB. However, the impact of air quality on the risk of TB in the Philippines is still poorly understood.”
Ms. Alli added, “Through our decades of partnership, we have [made] significant strides in TB control and improving the health of Filipinos nationwide. However, Filipinos would continue to suffer and [be] more susceptible to TB if we allow the continued deterioration of the quality of the air that we breathe.”
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