Senate bill seeks action plan, multi-sectoral body for health emergencies
In this Aug. 21, 2020 photo, a family doctor visits her patients in San Pedro, Laguna to conduct flu vaccination to reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working-age adults and older adults especially in time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The STAR/Mong Pintolo

Senate bill seeks action plan, multi-sectoral body for health emergencies

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - September 3, 2020 - 11:48am

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros is looking to establish permanent safeguards against any future public health emergency. 

"The country's experiences in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed the need for a national policy framework for health emergencies, and a health-sector led inter-agency body that will ensure the effective implementation of such a plan," the senator said on Thursday. 

"Maraming buhay at kabuhayan ang nawala dahilan sa hindi malinaw na sistema at hindi epektibong polisiya. (Many lives were lost due to an unclear system and ineffective policy.) Moving forward, government must have better public health security plans and mechanisms in place that are continuously updated to reflect past lessons and best practices," she said.

Hontiveros authored Senate Bill No. 1801, or the proposed Philippine Public Health Security and Emergency Act of 2020, which she said would address these concerns. 

Comprehensive national action plan

The proposed measure mandates the creation of the Philippine National Plan for Public Health Security and Emergency (PNAPHSE), "a framework which will review government's capacity to respond to health emergencies and comply with international health regulations." 

In addition to this, the national action plan would "identify risks, and create a multi-hazard emergency response plan which will guide national and local government units in responding to various health emergencies." 

According to Hontiveros, these health emergencies could take the form of outbreaks of infectious diseases, chemical events, or even biological attacks.

Inter-agency, health-sector led body 

The proposed measure also mandates the creation of a Philippine National Public Health Security and Emergency Council (PNHSEC),"a multi-sectoral and health sector-led body that will direct, oversee and coordinate the implementation of the said national plan." 

Currently, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which is overseeing the country's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is comprised of the members of President Rodrigo Duterte's Cabinet. 

While the multi-sectoral body proposed by Hontiveros keeps the president's Cabinet as members and will still led by the health secretary, it also includes lawmakers, representatives from local government units, "civil society organizations, medical societies and associations, and the private sector." 

"The idea is to adopt a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to public health emergency response so everyone — national officials, local leaders, non-government organizations and other stakeholders - will have a bigger role in crafting and coordinating our response to any health situation." 

Hontiveros further urged that these step be taken to avoid a repeat of what she called the mistakes made by the government in the last few months. 

RELATED: 'Medical quarantine, not ECQ': Health professionals call for change in 'militaristic' lockdownsHontiveros to gov't: Rethink militaristic, police-centered strategy vs COVID-19

"We have to learn from our mistakes and move towards necessary reforms so that we can save more lives and prevent social and economic disruption during any health emergency." 

As it stands, latest data from the Department of Health places the national coronavirus caseload at 226,440 and fatalities at 3,623. 

It has been 170 days since the Philippines was first placed under lockdown, marking the longest community quarantine period in the world. — Bella Perez-Rubio 

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