Irawaty Wardany, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Public health experts gathered at an industry seminar Thursday called for further campaigns around the effects of climate change, saying "even medical practitioners were in the dark".
"Most people have yet to become aware (of) this issue, therefore every participant in this seminar should become a role model for others," Sumengen Sutomo, a public health professor at the University of Indonesia said.
Simple steps health professionals could make to encourage the public to become more aware of climate change issues included encouraging others to stop using air conditioners or to start riding bicycles, Sumengen said.
He said he expected medical professionals to help educate their patients about their natural surroundings.
Some experts on climate change have said the phenomenon could see a massive spread of disease, especially vector-borne diseases including malaria and dengue fever, due to uncertain climate patterns.
Umar Fahmi Ahmadi, a lecturer from the Faculty of Public Health at the university, said one of the principles to respond to climate change was to "think globally and act locally".
"The general public needs guidelines," Umar said.
He also said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's suggestion to ride bicycles to work was a good example.
"However, it is difficult to implement as this will need infrastructure support."
Umar said regional administrations may play a key role to help draft a grand design and implement it seriously.
He cited Banjarnegara regency in Central Java, which successfully controlled the spread of malaria, against expert opinion, saying climate change would help its spread.
"Between 2000-2001, Banjarnegara experienced a malaria epidemic, but in 2002 the regency started to recruit villagers to monitor malaria," Umar said.
"Villagers received a three-month training on malaria and are responsible to monitor residents who get malaria."
Adang Bachtiar, chairman of the Indonesian Public Health Association, said even the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had yet to give serious attention to related health issues.
"Health has just recently been attached to climate change, so this will be on the sidelines during the conference."
Indonesia is set to host the conference from Dec. 3-14 in Bali.
Adang said it was understandable the health ministry was still looking for the appropriate program to respond to climate change issues.
The discussion made several recommendations, including that the government implement more effective programs and policies regarding climate change and health issues.
Secondly, a wider partnership among professionals was needed for advocacy as well as to encourage people empowerment, the health experts said.