A Brief Conversation with Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, about 2022 Tyler Prize Laureate, Sir Andy Haines.
Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood is a Professor and the Executive Director of Sunway Centre for Planetary Health and the founder of MERCY Malaysia.
You and Sir Andy were both medical doctors. How did you get into the field of Planetary Health?
For me, as a medical practitioner, I saw the impact of the damage to our planet, and on people’s lives through working in the humanitarian sector. We could not continue to give assistance to people affected by disasters when, in fact, we were not addressing the root cause. As a doctor, you learn that prevention is better than a cure and that adage applies to disasters as well. Planetary Health offers us that lens of looking at all the complex contributions of environment, politics, social and health on people’s lives. Unless we address Planetary Health and make this a priority, we will always be trying to catch up with more crises, more pandemics, more disasters and more suffering for everyone.
And in your opinion, how has Sir Andy helped to shape the field of Planetary Health?
Sir Andy Haines is really quite a known figure; very respected in the field of global health. He has been one of the earlier pioneers of climate change and health. I knew him particularly during the time of the Lancet Rockefeller Commission—the special commission on Planetary Health— he was leading that. It really brought forth the importance of Planetary Health as a discipline, for us to start looking at the complexity of health.
We are now seeing more and more climate emergencies arising, and climate change has serious implications on health. In 1996 Andy Haines was one of the co-editors of the WHO assessment on climate change and health. As early as 1996, he had already been leading us to rethink the impacts of climate change beyond environment. For the longest time, climate change was seen to be an area of work climate scientists indulged in. People could not apply the science of climate change to everyday effects in people’s lives. I think this is why the WHO assessment that Sir Andy Haines co-edited became an important document because it started to really unravel the real impact on people’s health. Therefore, climate change is as personal to policymakers as it is to you and me.
How has Sir Andy’s contribution influenced you personally?
Education plays such an important role in getting the next generation or the current generation to know much more about the importance of Planetary Health. So Sir Andy has been a true inspiration as someone who has now established the Sunway Center for Planetary Health in Malaysia, where there was no such institute in Asia Pacific.
Sir Andy and I were on a panel at the Prince Mahidol Conference, that led us to co-write on the intersectoral nature of politics and planetary health. Often we think that politics should not be brought into discussions of humanitarian crises or development issues. But planetary health, in fact, is not only for the domain of the health sector. It is financial, it is economic, it is social, it is gender equality. It is basically good leadership that will bring this multisectoral collaboration towards finding the solutions for the very serious planetary health issues and challenges we face today.
Why do you believe Sir Andy is deserving of the 2022 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement?
Sir Andy Haines deserves the Tyler Prize because he really is a pioneer. He’s an inspiration. He’s a true scientist, a true practitioner, and he will lead the way and guide all of us. And he has already done that; we can take that forward in our own regions, in our own countries, so that the health of humanity will be recast again as a partnership with the health of the planet. I hope Sir Andy Haines leaves a legacy of people who can better understand and appreciate the very close links between the health of humanity and the health of the planet, and how we all need to work together to recast that relationship.
Sir Andy has facilitated international collaboration and research, much of it focused on how climate impacts human health in low and middle-income countries. What is it about his leadership in this realm that stands out to you the most?
Sir Andy Haines dedicated his life to looking at the importance of health, particularly in low and middle-income countries, because unfortunately, it is these countries that bear the brunt of the damage that’s done to the environment by the high-income countries. I think that he has shone a spotlight on this, and really taught us that we need to look at these relationships very closely.
Sir Andy Haines is pushing us to think about the environment broader than just land use, deforestation, water use, but bringing it back down to our health and human rights, and the justice that we need to hold onto, both for the environment and for human health. Human health has to become a rights issue. Environment has to become a rights issue. That each and every one of us, and the future children and future generations, have a right to deserve an environment and a planet that is healthier than what it is now.
Find more information on Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood’s incredible work: