Experts call for united front against poor air quality and its impact on lung health

Although overall air quality has improved during the lockdowns, pollution is expected to again increase once things normalize.

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,” she said, citing a study by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Dr Kendra Chittenden, senior infectious disease advisor of USAID Bureau for Asia, echoed her data and research. “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.”

To address this problem, Atty. Herrera said that legislators are eyeing to update the Clean Air Act of 1999, and that several national agencies are also working on a framework to strengthen the health sector. 

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. “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,” she said.

To learn more about the climate and its impact on health, like and follow FHI 360 on Facebook and Twitter. Explore the organization’s efforts in improving lives and how to become a partner at its website fhi360.org.

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