In the lead-up to the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai where health was integrated for the first time in the climate change agenda, leading life insurer Pru Life UK partnered with the Planetary and Global Health Program of the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine – William H. Quasha Memorial to convene a multistakeholder forum entitled “Healthy Minds and Hearts: for a Resilient People and Planet.” The pioneering event brought together environmentalists, health and mental health practitioners, academics and industry leaders to discuss the profound effects of climate change on Filipinos’ health, especially on their mental health and well-being.

Atty. Emeren Vallente, Pru Life UK SVP & Chief Legal, ESG and Government Relations Officer said, “Pru Life UK has recognized early on that climate change poses risks to financial security and health, including mental health.  Addressing climate change and mental health starts with education and collaboration. We aim to have more of these collaborative sessions with the health sector and industry leaders to encourage dialogues for solutions to help mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Dr. Renzo Guinto, Director of the St. Luke’s Planetary and Global Health Program, added, “The climate emergency is a health emergency – and it affects not only our physical health, but also the health of our brains and hearts. We health professionals cannot address these problems through a purely clinical approach. Hence, we must get out of the clinic and work with other partners such as Pru Life UK to protect people’s health in the era of a warming planet.”

L-R: Maricel Estavillo, Pru Life UK VP for Government Relations and ESG; Atty. Emeren Vallente, Pru Life UK SVP & Chief Legal, ESG and Government Relations Officer; Dr. Renzo Guinto, Associate Professor of the Practice of Global Public Health and Inaugural Director of the Planetary and Global Health Program of the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine; and Rey Revoltar, Pru Life UK SVP and Chief Human Resources Officer.

Climate change-induced disasters such as heat wave and super typhoons have adverse impact on the social and economic determinants of mental health, with factors such as unemployment, homelessness, and food and water insecurity coming into play.

Resource speakers at the forum highlighted the detrimental effects of climate change on vulnerable communities in the country especially those residing in disaster-prone areas. Sena Salcedo, Chief Psychologist at Betterteem, and Jom Bagulaya, former Tacloban City Councilor, emphasized the need to look after the mental health of communities affected by calamities.

Bagulaya recounted the challenges faced by Typhoon Yolanda survivors from Tacloban City, who were severely affected by the storm surge yet had little to no time to process their grief to focus on survival.

“The emotions, the anxiety and the trauma that come from these disasters are pushed aside in the race of survival,” Salcedo added.

Meanwhile, Dr. John Jamir Benzon R. Aruta, Associate Professor of Psychology at De La Salle University, emphasized the vulnerability of farmers and fisherfolks in the face of climate change, citing heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke and financial losses due to extreme weather events as major contributors.

Working together for a resilient future

Approximately 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, making it one of the most frequently and severely affected countries worldwide. Although Filipinos are known for their resilience, experts stressed the importance of education and capacity building.

Dr. Oliver Sta. Ana, chair of the Environmental Psychology Special Interest Group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines, underscored the importance of awareness and education, especially among the grassroots communities, about environmental protection, climate change and mental health.

On Pru Life UK’s part, it has been championing discussions about the impact of climate change on health, starting with its independent study released in 2021 entitled, “How will climate change affect the health of Filipinos in the next decade?”1 The study highlights that no disease group is immune to the effects of climate change and that financial security can be a climate adaption measure. Since then, Pru Life UK has integrated climate education and especially focusing on the impact of climate change on health and mental health into its community-based financial education programs.

The forum was held at PRUHouse, Ortigas last October 10 which also coincided with the World Mental Health Day celebration.

‘Climate-smart’ insurance solutions

To empower Filipinos in protecting themselves against the effects of climate change, Pru Life UK offers accessible and affordable climate-smart products such as the PRUMedCare Select Infectious Disease and PRUDengue MedCare that provide protection against dengue, typhoid, measles and malaria. Premiums range from PHP 175 to PHP 750 for 6 or 12 months of coverage.

“Having insurance is one of the ways Filipino families can protect themselves from the adverse effects of climate change. Our goal is to protect as many Filipinos as possible, especially those from the underserved and unserved communities,” says Maricel Estavillo, Pru Life UK VP for Government Relations & ESG.