Public health politics
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - January 7, 2016 - 9:00am

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dra. Janet Garin was our featured guest last Wednesday in the first Kapihan sa Manila Bay for 2016. Though nursing a cold, Garin attended our regular breakfast forum held in a new venue at the Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Manila.

Garin came prepared with the latest statistics of the just concluded DOH-led “Iwas Paputok” campaign to reduce firecracker-related incidents. She confirmed the increase this year of incidents was largely due to post-New Year revelry cases.

Through the years, firecracker blasts have claimed many casualties, mostly youngsters who are either maimed, or worse killed during the New Year revelry. Garin lamented there was no stemming the rise of firecracker blast cases this year despite the intensified DOH “Iwas Paputok” information campaign.

Accompanied by her immediate subordinates at the DOH, Garin reiterated her proposal for a total national ban on the sale and use of firecrackers to celebrate the New Year. The erstwhile congresswoman from Iloilo appealed to her former colleagues in Congress to help put a stop to this life-threatening tradition.

She implored Congress to have the “political will” to impose a total ban on the household use of firecrackers and to mandate local government units to organize a supervised fireworks or pyrotechnics display in their respective areas during New Year. Thus, she maintains this proposed ban should not lead to the demise of the local firecrackers industry.

A medical doctor by profession, Garin explained the risk of developing infection from firecracker wounds and burns is high because firecrackers are made of dirty materials like animal manure containing combustible methane gas.

That’s why she underscored the importance to get anti-tetanus shots within 24 hours after acquiring even minor wounds or burns.

The victims have better chances of survival if they fully completed tetanus immunization given during childhood, she added. Speaking of immunization, the DOH Secretary announced anew President Aquino has approved their proposal to allocate funds from the incremental increase of government collection from “sin taxes” to fund the anti-dengue immunization campaign for public school children.

Likewise, Garin said, the approved budget for this year of the DOH now enables government-run hospitals to provide complete dosage of anti-rabies shots at no additional cost, especially for indigent patients.

On a sour note, Garin disclosed having found out only last Monday that P1 billion of DOH budget this year was removed at the bicameral conference committee level, the so-called third chamber of Congress. She was told the P1-billion cut was taken from the budget for family planning and transferred to other government agencies.

As one of the principal authors of the controversial Reproductive Health Law (RH) while she was still in Congress, Garin rued the budget cut amid the projected increase of two million more Filipino babies to be added to the country’s population this year. The Population Commission (PopCom), an agency under the DOH, recently reported the baby boom will increase the country’s population from the current 102.4 million to 104 million by the end of this year.

To stress her point, she drew on paper a triangle to show the wide base of this figure representing our country’s population composed of the young, or 40 years old and below. They, she said, form the bulk of the population within the reproductive age.

Garin warned the population boom is expected to expand further in the coming years. Since our strictly Catholic country has no policy limiting how many children a family can have, Garin reiterated the importance of the government providing access to available safe options to parents, especially the mothers and women, from a menu of contraceptives they can choose from.

Under the RH program, the DOH provides condoms, pills, intra-uterine device, post partum IUD and breastfeeding pills available for free at health centers and government-run hospitals.

An ob-gyn by specialization, Garin related a case of her patient crying profusely after she helped her deliver birth to a fourth child. “You should be happy you have a healthy baby girl,” Garin quoted herself telling her patient. “But she is the fourth child already. Can we still send her to school?” the mother asked her in between sobs. This is just one of the many sad, untold stories of poor families with so many children and mouths to feed, not to mention providing for their shelter and other basic needs.

At the bicameral conference, conferees from the House adopted the senators’ deletion of the funding for family planning and its re-alignment elsewhere. Sen. Loren Legarda, finance committee chairperson, led the Senate conferees, while her House counterpart, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, headed the House contingent.

Legarda, one of Garin’s co-authors of the RH Law, confirmed the P1 billion DOH budget this year was diverted to the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Legarda cited the realignment was justified by the need to upgrade the AFP’s air assets as “timely and equally important” amid the maritime conflict between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The DOH Secretary conceded Congress would continue cutting their annual budget for contraception unless the Supreme Court (SC) finally rules on the contested provisions of the RH Law on the free distribution of family planning implants.

Like the “political will” needed to push the proposed total ban on firecrackers, Garin said implementing the RH Law that makes these birth contraceptives available to needy families is also actually a matter of political will.

With the advent of the election period in the country, this issue will become another fodder for those trying to curry support of the pro-life groups and especially the Church.

A card-bearing member of President Aquino’s Liberal Party, Garin opted not to run in this year’s election. She vowed though to make a difference at the DOH to implement vital public health programs, including those under RH Law, without having to worry about her political career.

 

ACIRC ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES CAFE ADRIATICO DAVAO CITY REP DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH DOH GARIN IWAS PAPUTOK NEW YEAR PRESIDENT AQUINO YEAR
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