Be A Physician For Both People And Planet: Dr Jemilah

The business of health creation should not be concentrated only in the medical industry, as medical care only contributes to 20 per cent of health creation, says the special advisor to the PM on public health.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 28 — Dr Jemilah Mahmood urged doctors to shift their mindset from public health to planetary health, saying their patients now are not just people, but also the planet.

The special advisor to the prime minister on public health introduced the term “planetary health care” by explaining that it is a new discipline that is yet to be really embraced by Malaysia.

“Planetary health is a mindset, an integrated approach, and a unified vision that brings together the health of people and the health of the planet,” Dr Jemilah said in her keynote address at a health advocacy event last Sunday organised by the Academy of Medicine Malaysia (AMM) and the Medical Faculty of the University of Malaya.

She said that changes in the environment and ecosystem directly affect human health.

“We have added around 25 to 30 years to the average life expectancy around the world but accomplished this most of the time, at the expense of the planet,” Dr Jemilah said.

She cited a study by The Lancet that showed damage to the planet can harm human health, as unchecked climate change-related impact could cause an extra 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.

She also pointed out that Kiribati, a country with a population of 123,346 citizens, may be the first country to disappear due to climate change.

“When I met their president two years ago, he said that they were already packing their artefacts, their history and exporting it to Australia and buying land in Fiji,” Dr Jemilah told an audience of doctors.

Dr Jemilah noted that one always thinks that health is created inside a hospital or medical care facility, but in reality, medical care only contributes to 20 per cent of health creation.

“More than half of the pie is attributable to social and environmental factors, a huge chunk to behavioural changes — do we smoke, do we eat healthy, do we exercise — and just a very small proportion also from our genetics.

“This shows you that the business of health creation should not be focused and concentrated on the medical care industry,” she emphasised during her speech at the event on building capacity and partnerships in health advocacy.

The special advisor on public health to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also talked about how planetary health, which encompasses all forms of health, requires all actors to come together — field, policy framework, moral imperative, scientific paradigm, and communication strategy.

Dr Jemilah caught the audience’s attention when she highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought some good to the environment, pointing out a visual from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that showed a fall in pollution in China during the coronavirus lockdown.

She also said that 58.4 per cent of pollutant emissions in Malaysia dropped as a result of the Movement Control Order (MCO) that was implemented since March.

“Covid-19 is a dress rehearsal for entrepreneurial approaches for climate change. As we try to flatten the curve of Covid-19, we also need to flatten the curve of our ecological footprint.”

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