Press Release | 01 Feb 2024

The Department of Health (DOH) gathered today its Medical Center Chiefs, Chiefs of Hospitals, Regional Directors and Assistant Regional Directors, and central office Bureau Directors, and Executive Committee members at an “El Niño Summit”, to align national and local strategies and action plans to mitigate the health impacts of the El Nino phenomenon. This follows the directives of President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr. (PBBM) through the National Task Force El Niño to ensure a harmonized and well-coordinated government response.

The DOH El Niño Summit started with a briefing by the DOST-Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) of the current El Niño status by way of a 2024 Heat Map. Expert panelists then discussed case studies on heat-related illnesses and, acute gastroenteritis. Hospital chiefs followed by presenting their perspectives on scenarios around water, energy, food, and diseases that hospitals will most likely encounter as the weather becomes hotter. From the gathered list of best practices, the summit participants then wrote action plans for use in deploying the needed interventions.

El Niño and its complementary phase La Niña are warm and cool phases, respectively, of a recurring climate pattern known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). ENSO shifts back and forth every two to seven years, leading to disruptions in wind and rainfall patterns across the tropics including the Philippines. It affects people’s health, as well as the health system that takes care of them. Recently, scientists have observed that “there is a high likelihood that ENSO variations have increased in amplitude by up to 10% since 1960 due to the observed rise of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” (reference: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/enso/has-climate-change-already-affected-enso).

Last December 2023, Secretary Teodoro J. Herbosa attended the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. At COP28, the Philippines hosted the Climate Smarter Health System Forum side event, where Sec. Herbosa declared that “the health impact of climate change is a lived reality for countless Filipinos… the climate crisis is a health crisis.” The current DOH El Niño Summit in support of PBBM and the National Task Force El Niño acknowledges the said lived reality, and is a real-world action to anticipate and be ready for any El Niño problems that may affect people’s health and our health systems.