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The non-negotiable right to health

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos October 23,2016 - 09:20 PM

Health is wealth — an old adage that rings true for all generations. However, not a few realize its full meaning when illness strikes.

It is amazing that each part of our body works in perfect synchronicity with the others, a fact which we unfortunately take for granted, as if well-being is due us from heaven.

We forget that this human machine requires tender loving care just like any others, otherwise it deteriorates and loses its productivity and essence.

To live a life in good health is not just a non-negotiable right, but it is a sacred duty by everyone and most especially the State. To have citizenry who are healthy and in a safe environment requires sincere and caring public servants who prioritize the well-being and safety of the people, even if it means disapproving projects of political campaign funders or friends from the private sector.

There are still local government units which are not responsive to the complaints of residents of dust, stench, floodings, to mention a few, as a result of projects initiated in their area which most likely did not comply with the steep requirements of our health, sanitation and environmental laws.

We are happy that the Ombudsman is now stepping in to look at environmental crimes being allowed to be committed by the duty holder, also known as the government, at the expense of the people’s well-being and the environment.

It is not coincidental that the provisions in the Constitution (Article II) on the State’s duty to protect the people’s right to health and the right to a balanced and healthful ecology come one after the other, as health and environment are two peas in a pod and deeply intertwined. Both connect to the basic right to life and livelihood and to a life of peace and tranquility. Indeed, the State, through the state institutions and agencies, have the primordial responsibility to ensure the well-being of its people.

We hear of record-breaking incidence of dengue in Cebu that has meant losing precious lives of members of the family, whether young or old. Since the natural predators of mosquitoes such as bats and frogs are vanishing, it is natural that they increase in numbers. We know that the carriers lay their eggs in stagnant waters. Even a bottle cap filled with rainwater becomes a conducive environment for them to grow. It is everyone’s responsibility to remove the breeding ground and not just wait for the barangays or cities to spend taxpayers’ money to control their growth.

It requires a creative and proactive government to tap the interests and enthusiasm of its constituents in stopping the menace. A barangay in Cebu City instilled the 4 o’clock habit as the time that residents collectively do the job of scouring their area for possible habitat of the insect. The cases of dengue plunged, and the program saved a lot of lives, especially children’s who are always the victims.

Indeed, each day, our children are exposed to a variety of pollutants and silent killers. That should make us feel a deep sense of responsibility to take action to protect them.

One such harmful and highly toxic substance is lead, considered as among the top ten chemicals of public health concern. According to Dr. Maria Neira, director of the Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health of the World Health Organization (WHO), “exposure to lead poses a significant hazard to human health, especially for the children. The health effects can have a lifelong impact and include damage to body organs, behavioral problems and impairment to physical and mental development.”

“A National Report: Lead in New Enamel Household Paints in the Philippines,” in 2015 noted that “while lead exposure is also harmful to adults, lead exposure harms children at much lower levels, and the health effects are generally irreversible and can have a lifelong impact. The younger the child, the more harmful lead can be, and children with nutritional deficiencies absorb ingested lead at an increased rate. The human fetus is the most vulnerable, and a pregnant woman can transfer lead that has accumulated in her body to her developing child. Lead is also transferred through breast milk when lead is present in a nursing mother.”

Lead can be found in coal ash, in our soil and in paint. WHO is calling on every country to pass national actions to eliminate lead paint. The industrialized countries already banned its use since four decades back.

Good action on the part of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under then secretary Ramon Paje to issue a lead-paint regulation in December 2013 through a Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds (CCO). It strictly prohibits the use of lead in paints or other similar surface coating materials containing lead or lead in excess of 0.009 percent (90 ppm) of the weight of the total nonvolatile content of the dried paint film.

Thanks to the tremendous push by the EcoWaste Coalition and political authorities, the awareness on the hazards of lead paint among consumers has been raised. But a lot more needs to be done, such as mandatory disclosure of lead content in paint products.

This week is the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action. Let us do our share to ensure “lead-free kids for a healthy future.”

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TAGS: body, CCO, ecowaste, future, generation, health, mosquito, mosquitoes, rights, WHO, work, World Health Organization

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