Amid poor showing in ASEAN poll, DOH says COVID-19 response 'always guided by science'

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Amid poor showing in ASEAN poll, DOH says COVID-19 response 'always guided by science'
Commuters line up at a bus stop in Caloocan City to buy Beep cards on the first day of cashless transactions for carousel buses in EDSA busway last October 1, 2020.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The DOH stood by its policies on the COVID-19 pandemic after a survey among ASEAN countries found that Filipinos disapproved of their country's response the most.

Some 53.7% of participants from the country, who were from the academe, business, civil society and media, had thumbed down how the Duterte administration has so far dealt with the health crisis, per the ASEAN Studies Centre's annual report made public Wednesday.

The said survey had 1,032 respondents across the region, 6.5% of which were Filipinos, who said government should include more experts from the scientific and medical field to contribute to formulating public policies amid the pandemic.

Commenting on the results, the health department said it "recognizes the sentiments expressed in the findings [and] values the voice of the Filipinos."

"Which is why the DOH, together with the rest of the government, continues to take steps on improving our health system and ensuring its responsiveness to the health needs of every Filipino," a statement from the agency read as reported by News5.

Officials said their decisions "have always been guided by science" through its expert panels, such as their technical advisory groups on national immunization and health technology assessment.

Government's response has been criticized over the course of the pandemic and even before it hit the country nearly a year ago. Its decision not to bar entry to Chinese tourists was not received well, even as both President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they did not want to single out Chinese people.

Its first ever reported case would later on turned out to be a tourist from Wuhan, China, the ground zero of the virus. The first COVID-19 case had visited tourist areas in the country before seeking medical help for what would turn out to be COVID-19 symptoms.

The months that followed saw the administration sticking by Duterte's choice of putting retired military officials at the helm of the coronavirus task force, as well as ordering police and military to carry out pandemic-related curbs, which led to criticism that the government had employed a militarized response to a health emergency.

In June, public health expert Dr. Tony Leachon was forced out as an advisor to the task force for saying DOH lacked a sense of urgency andhad problems in data management and in transparency in its processes.

"Ultimately the DOH continues to strive to improve its work and fulfill its mandate of protecting and upholding public health to the highest standard," the agency said, as it added that government response "is only as good" as the institutions who carry it out and the public who comply with it.

Duque faced calls to resign or be replaced by, significantly by more than a Senate majority, over what they said was a "failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, and inefficiency in performance" that had led to the country's poor and delayed response.

The health chief has managed to stay in his post with Duterte repeatedly backing him. Almost a year since the hard lockdowns were set, coronavirus infections in the Philippines are now at more than 541,000 with 11,401 deaths, making it the second worst-hit in the ASEAN region.

And while the administration has touted too that vaccinations could begin by this month, it has yet to sign final procurement deals with drugmakers for its aim of inoculating 50 million to 70 million in 2021. — with reports from News5/Greg Gregorio






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