'Medical populism' puts Philippines at 66th of 91 nations in COVID-19 suppression

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
'Medical populism' puts Philippines at 66th of 91 nations in COVID-19 suppression
In this photo taken on September 2, 2020, Catholics wearing face shields queue up to receive communion during a mass inside a church in Manila.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — A team of global experts ranked the Philippines 66th out of 91 countries in terms of suppressing the spread of the coronavirus disease, no thanks, they said to "medical populism."

In a study, The Lancet COVID-19 Commission noted that the country’s dismal ranking can be attributed to President Rodrigo Duterte’s style of political leadership.

The Lancet COVID-19 Commission said a country was able to suppress the transmission of the virus if there were five or fewer cases per million pollution per day in August provided that the rest of testing is “ample”—or at least 20 tests per new case. Among these countries are Taiwan, Thailand, New Zealand and South Korea.

Those with “low” transmission are countries with 10 or fewer new cases per million population per day, while those with “moderate transmission” are nations with 10 to 50 new infections per million per day.

The Philippines falls under the “moderate” category with 37.5 new daily cases per million population in August.

A country has “high” transmission when it reported 50 to 100 new cases per million a day and “very high” when it logs 100 or more cases per million per day.

‘Medical populism’

“Medical populists” such as Duterte, US President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro were slammed in the study of The Lancet COVID-19 Commission. The commission aims to help governments and civil societies respond effectively to the coronavirus pandemic.

“One reason for failure to suppress the epidemic is a style of political leadership that has been called medical populism,” it said.

The study drew from the study of medical anthropologist Gideon Lasco.

He described top government officials as “simplifying the pandemic by downplaying its impacts or touting easy solutions or treatments, spectacularizing their responses to crisis, forging divisions between the ‘people’ and dangerous ‘others,’ and making knowledge claims to support the above.”

The Lancet COVID-19 Commission stressed this style of political leadership not only affects the implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as wearing of face masks but also “breeds misinformation and rumor trafficking.”

In two separate public addresses, Duterte said that gasoline can be used as a disinfectant, with him stressing that he was not joking when he said it.

There is no evidence that gasoline can disinfect face masks or kill the virus that causes COVID-19. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that repeated or prolonged skin contact with liquid gasoline can degrease the skin, causing irritation and dermatitis.

The Lancet COVID-19 Commission urged governments to prioritize advice from medical professionals and cooperate with international agencies. It also called leaders to combat decisions based on rumor-mongering and misinformation and to desist from expressing personal opinions that are at odds with science.


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