MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Health (DOH) has been ordered by Malacañang to take over the health and sanitation operations of local government units (LGUs) in areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
In Memorandum Order No. 61 signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., the DOH was tasked to temporarily assume direct supervision and control over health and sanitation operations if deemed necessary, based on an assessment of the needs and in consultation with local officials.
“All other departments, agencies, bureaus, and offices of the government are hereby ordered to coordinate with and assist the DOH in the implementation of this order,” it stated.
Ochoa had cited Section 17 of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991, which states “that the national government may provide or augment the basic services and facilities assigned to a local government unit when such services or facilities are not made available or, if made available, are inadequate to meet the requirements of the inhabitants.”
He said that Section 105, on the other hand, provides that in cases of “widespread public health dangers, the Secretary of Health may, upon the directive of the President and in consultation with the LGU concerned,” may take over in temporary capacity.
Ochoa added that Presidential Decree No. 856, or the Code on Sanitation of the Philippines, also provides for this authority.
The DOH and World Health Organization (WHO) would start next week the vaccination of close to two million children in typhoon-ravaged areas.
Aside from anti-measles and polio vaccines, the children will also be given Vitamin A drops to boost their immunity.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the mass vaccination is part of the expanded public health measures that they are now putting in place to minimize the health consequences of a disaster.
“Our system was shaken but it was not broken. With the support of our partners, vaccinations have been re-launched at a vital time,” he noted.
He said that the vaccination program was meant to minimize the usual health consequences of a disaster like pneumonia, urinary tract infection, diarrhea, dengue and leptospirosis.
Ona added that they would like to “expand aggressively” the vaccination program, not taking into consideration the vaccination history of the children.
“We’re not going to determine if they have been vaccinated or not, we’ll just vaccinate them,” he maintained.
According to WHO Country Representative Julie Hall, vaccination is an integral component of relief and rehabilitation efforts. Many children are at risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases such as measles in congested evacuation centers, Hall said.
Sigrun Roesel, of WHO’s Extended Program on Immunization, clarified that while anti-polio vaccination was included, the Philippines remains free from the disease.
Ona said that the damage caused by Yolanda on public healthcare facilities in Mimaropa and Central, Western and Eastern Visayas had reached some P4.08 billion, based on initial estimates.