Allen Gil, founder of Project CLI-MED in the Philippines is writing about the problem of climate change related illnesses, in particular Neglected Tropical Diseases and the story of the CLI-MED Youth Initiative. This is followed by a short Q&A.
The Philippines is one of the top countries in the world that is highly vulnerable to the hazards and long-term effects of climate change. The changes in environmental conditions due to climate change, such as: more frequent precipitation and higher humidity, exacerbates and worsens the incidences of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in the country. Among all the NTDs present in the country, one of the most important is schistosomiasis.
Schistosomiasis, or snail fever, is a disease caused by parasitic flatworms spread by freshwater snails that infect humans and cause liver damage, kidney failure, and other internal organ problems. Without treatment, the disease can cause poor growth and learning difficulties among children, and may even lead to death among adults due to physiological and neurological complications. There are currently 12 million Filipinos who are at risk of schistosomiasis, which equates to about 1 in 10 people in the entire population. Schistosomiasis is endemic to numerous islands in the Philippines, but for the case in the island of Leyte, schistosomiasis is only endemic at the north eastern part of the island.
However, just last 2018, there was a widely-publicized schistosomiasis outbreak at a mountain village in Baybay City. The outbreak was extremely alarming because Baybay City is located at the western part of Leyte island and it was supposed to be beyond the endemic boundary of schistosomiasis. This showed that the disease is on the move, and this can be partly explained by the increasing variations in climate. Given the very poor medical facilities and inadequate health services in the island, the disease will continue to spread to the entire island of Leyte if no intervention is put into action.
Because of this issue, we initiated Project CLI+MED. Project CLI+MED is a combination of the words: climate and medicine, and it is a youth-led initiative that aims to better equip marginalized communities in combating, monitoring, and preventing climate change-related illnesses, particularly Neglected Tropical Diseases through the capacity building of youths and the development of information technology tools. For its pilot program, the project aims to address the schistosomiasis outbreak in the mountain village of Villa Solidaridad in Baybay City, Leyte. The first objective of the project is to promote capacity building and empowerment among the village’s youth leaders and create a Schistosomiasis Youth Taskforce. In collaboration with the city and regional health department, this youth taskforce will then conduct a series of malacological and snail surveys in the water bodies of their village. The second objective of the project is to use the gathered data to develop a mobile digital monitoring tool and a schistosomiasis risk map. Lastly, the project aims to co-create and co-implement participative, proactive, and ecologically-sound interventions with the stakeholders, based on the gathered information from the monitoring system and risk map.
Through this project, we hope to cultivate a participative, proactive, and resilient community which will be comprised of leaders, health workers, community residents, and youths who are knowledgeable, empowered, and equipped in combating schistosomiasis.
In short, how did CLI-MED start?
Our organization is working on addressing climate change-related health issues, specifically Neglected Tropical Diseases. For our pilot project we aimed on targeting the outbreak of schistosomiasis in a mountain village in Baybay City in the Leyte Province in the Philippines. We hoped to raise resiliency and community participation in combating schistosomiasis in their village through the capacity building of local youth leaders and the development of information technology tools.
How have Covid restrictions been important and also detrimental to your work?
The COVID-19 restrictions have completely halted our operations. Our national government has imposed strict community quarantine and social distancing measures. And any non-essential organizational operations or mass gathering of people are not allowed. Moreover, the organization members are unable to work on the ground because we can’t enter other communities, towns, or cities without proper papers and documentation. We are planning to assess the feasibility of the project again this August and identify if we can push through with our project. But the future prospects are pretty grim. Moreover, if ever the pandemic is over, we are not sure if schistosomiasis is even a relevant health issue anymore in the community since they would be more focused on recovering from the financial collapse that they have experienced because of the pandemic. In the meantime, we are pivoting our project to be more applicable in online platforms and we are trying to address schistosomiasis through a different outlet.