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This Malaysian Established A Centre To Curb The Impending Climate And Disaster Crisis

The centre was established in hopes of addressing deeper issues that are often unaddressed, such as the climate crisis, disaster relief, and pandemics.

Cover image via Sunway Centre for Planetary Health (Provided to SAYS)

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Meet Professor Tan Sri Dr Jemilah.

A medical professional and advocate for planetary health and sustainability, she has been managing the conflict, disaster, and health crisis for over two decades.

With the idea of establishing a planetary health approach, she has addressed numerous shortcomings of disaster and climate crisis management.

Previously, she was the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia on Public Health and also a member of the Malaysian government's Economic Action Council from April 2020 to September 2021. She also founded the humanitarian organisation, MERCY Malaysia, and has been an active participant in ground zero missions to assist with disaster aid within the nation.

At present day, through the advisory and board roles she holds, she is an advisor for environmental, social, and governance issues.

In late 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Jemilah, along with a small group of friends in Geneva, conceptualised the creation of a centre for planetary health in Asia

The Sunway Centre For Planetary Health (SCPH), Asia's first centre for planetary health, was pioneered by them to bring awareness to planetary health. How? By using Sunway's existing facilities and networks to make connections with international and regional partners.

The centre was established in hopes of addressing deeper issues that are often unaddressed, such as the climate crisis, disaster relief, and pandemics.

Speaking to SAYS, Dr Jemilah opened up about the struggles of starting SCPH, "Of course the pandemic presented some significant challenges in getting the centre up and running, but it also presented an opportunity and emphasised the urgency of bringing the planetary health movement to this part of the world."

"SCPH's vision is to create a safe and just world where the health of humans and the planet thrive in harmony, and we hope to achieve this goal through education, research, public engagement, and policy influence," she added.

As the world progresses over time, the obvious disruptions to the planet have not gone unnoticed

A photo of residents in Shah Alam wading through a flood in 2021.

Image via AP Photo/Vincent Thian/The Diplomat

The climate crisis has been a prevalent issue, with imminent global warming signs and widespread pandemic issues that have impacted the global community. Earlier this year, Malaysia was hit by a series of flash floods, with Malaysians expressing their frustrations over slow disaster response.

Having worked in emergencies for more than two decades, these instances showed Dr Jemilah that those in leadership positions were consistently failing to address the underlying drivers of crises and ineffective development programming.

"This can be observed via shifts in biodiversity, changing land use and cover, acceleration in air pollution, depletion of natural resources, and the resulting damage to our lived environment. It is most clearly demonstrated through the recent pandemic and disease outbreaks, as well as the increasingly pressing climate emergency," she explained.

Through her efforts with SCPH, Dr Jemilah has been working to provide policy support to governments, sub-national administrations, and non-governmental stakeholders

A photo of Professor Tan Sri Dr Jemilah (fourth from the left) at DEAL's doughnut economics implementation in Ipoh.

Image via Sunway Centre for Planetary Health (Provided to SAYS)

A project with the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) is also in progress, with the goal of supporting the city of Ipoh and its surrounding towns to live within the means of the planet's well-being, while still meeting the needs of its residents.

According to DEAL, doughnut economics is "a social foundation to ensure that no one is left falling short on life's essentials, as well as an ecological ceiling to ensure that humanity does not collectively overshoot the planetary boundaries that protect Earth's life-supporting systems."

This would be the first programme to bring the doughnut economics approach to Asia and the Pacific.

Everyone should be able to participate in engaging conversations surrounding planetary health.
Professor Tan Sri Dr Jemilah

Professor Tan Sri Dr Jemilah was one of the speakers at the Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week conference.

Image via Sunway Centre for Planetary Health (Provided to SAYS)

That means everyone should have access to evidence and information, and making that happen is a fundamental part of SCPH's mission.

Dr Jemilah believes that effective communication is vital in encouraging lasting behavioural and systemic change. In order to do that, science must be de-jargonised and be in a language people can truly understand, identify with, and act on.

"Communicating translational research findings beyond university campuses in ways that are accessible and culturally appropriate is absolutely key to changing mindsets and growing the planetary health movement," she said.

Beyond attending ground zero missions to provide disaster relief, the activist with a golden heart has had her hand in a slew of other programmes

Professor Tan Sri Dr Jemilah treating patients during a disaster relief programme at a clinic for flood-affected Orang Asli.

Image via Sunway Centre for Planetary Health (Provided to SAYS)

The disaster relief programme was for a village of Orang Asli in Bentong.

Image via Sunway Centre for Planetary Health (Provided to SAYS)

A photo of her participating in a mangrove forest recovery programme to replant mangrove saplings.

Image via Sunway Centre for Planetary Health (Provided to SAYS)

As part of efforts to provide more awareness on planetary health, SCPH will be introducing mandatory planetary health education at Sunway University, regardless of students' majors

A photo of the Public Policy Advocacy Competition hosted by myIMPACT @ YouthCare Malaysia, in collaboration with SCPH.

Image via @sunwaycph (Instagram)

"We started with a pilot programme this year and were pleased by how well it resonated with those who took it. After the course was finished, students told us that they now understand that they have to lead the change," shared Dr Jemilah.

Through SCPH, she is able to contribute to the university's greater goal of becoming the first planetary health-oriented academic institution and a model for other seats of learning in planetary health education, research, and advocacy.

How can the rakyat help? By doing relatively 'small' actions and sacrifices in order to make a huge difference.

Professor Tan Sri Dr Jemilah collaborating with DEAL on a discussion about applying doughnut economics in Ipoh.

Image via Sunway Centre for Planetary Health (Provided to SAYS)

When asked how we can make a change, Dr Jemilah answered, "The transition to a sustainable world needs us to do everything differently, from food production, consumption, and product manufacturing, to managing our natural landscapes and resources while living in cities."

As the rakyat, our role in advocating for the health of our planet is through 'small' actions, like stopping the usage of single-use plastics, doing more exercise, and decreasing our carbon footprint.

With just small actions and sacrifices, we are still able to make a huge difference.

All this month, SAYS will be featuring inspiring stories of extraordinary Malaysian changemakers in collaboration with Wiki Impact

Wiki Impact is an online platform dedicated to the impact industry. They share stories and data on issues that matter, highlighting impact-driven organisations and changemakers on the ground. Categories include poverty alleviation, social justice, gender equality, healthcare and education for all, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, impact influencers, and more!

Find out more here. 

Image via SAYS

Wondering how you can make a change for the better? Here are ways you can start:

Meanwhile, check out more creative Malaysians who are making sustainable change, one step at a time: