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With seasonal and weather shifts here to stay, it’s best to be aware of the diseases they may bring and prepare accordingly.


APRIL 2011

At the start of 2011, heavy snowfall shut down classes in Iran, and rains placed streets in Jeddah, a city in neighboring Saudi Arabia, under water. And soon enough, Manileños—harboring fears of another Ondoy disaster—were cracking half-serious jokes about the impending apocalypse in the coming year, made foreboding by a popular movie.

It did not help that the weather itself seemed to fluctuate day by day; it would be bright and sunny in the morning, only to have clouds converge and break out into rain in the afternoon. Complaints of headaches, and the sudden onslaught of fever and sore throats, among other illnesses, started popping in Facebook posts. Mothers in the MOMStoday fan page attributed their little children’s cough and colds to daily climate changes.

Parents would do well to be vigilant of the state of the skies and the air outside their homes, given the 2011 study of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The report names climate change and the environment among the challenges that young people today have to face with an urgency that was not present or called for among their parents’ generations earlier. Nine out of ten adolescents all over the world live in developing countries like the Philippines which are sensitive to “climate-related disruptions” that are consequences of depletion of food and water supply, despoliation of the environment, and damage to natural resources.

Illnesses can occur because of floods, high winds, and droughts, and spread throughout the population through water, air, and the food that people eat. In developing countries that are vulnerable to floods, waterborne diseases can become a major health concern. Dr. John Juiliard Go of the World Health Organization office in the Philippines elaborates, “Warmer temperatures will raise the risk of flooding, increasing diarrheal illnesses such as typhoid and cholera. Floods cause sewage and drinking waters to mix ... and if ingested, can lead to diarrhea. The lack of sanitation would make the problem worse.”

Environment and immunity

The WHO report has called on governments to implement adaptation measures that will enable the public to cope with climate change and the illnesses it brings. It has asked for public health initiatives to strengthen measures to prevent diseases and promote health, as well as mechanisms that will strengthen disease surveillance and response. Hospitals and health facilities must also be fortified and kept safe from disaster, while able to provide medical services even during those calamities.

Also needing to be beefed up is the immune system of the average Filipino who has learned to bring an umbrella at all times, regardless of sunny skies or dark clouds. Now is the time to cope with climate change and prepare for its illnesses. Dr. Go gives the following advice to prevent climate-sensitive diseases:

l Perform personal healthy actions such as walking or cycling, and use cars less.

l Eat healthier foods like fruits and vegetables.

l Promote cleaner environments in the home and work place.

l Observe personal hygiene.

l Ensure availability of safe water and sanitation facilities.

l Use mosquito nets.

It would also help to be a little more conscious and protective of Mother Nature by developing ecologically-friendly habits. Dr. Go continues, “Use compact fluorescent light instead of regular light bulbs. Recycle more. Check car tires. Avoid products with a lot of packaging. Turn off electronic devices when not in use.”

And perhaps, above all, “plant trees.”

For more information about the impact of climate change on the health of Filipinos, check out our April 2011 issue now available at the newsstands.

health and climate change - health today philippines
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