MANILA - It’s about time the Philippines creates a national institute for infectious diseases to be better equipped to respond to such public health emergencies like COVID-19, according to an infectious disease specialist on Thursday.
Dr. Regina Berba, head of the Philippine General Hospital Infection Control Unit, issued the proposal in the hearing of the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation and Future’s Thinking on the Health Service Delivery for the New Normal.
Berba said a national institute would help ensure that government policies aimed at managing and controlling infectious diseases would be “based on scientific evidence rather than politics”.
She noted that the institute should have a national scope, set limitations on political influence, has a scientific basis for programs and policies, and focus on major public health problems affecting the country.
“They really should be science-based organizations that are driven by data and evidence,” Berba stressed.
Committee chairperson Sen. Pia Cayetano welcomed the recommendation, saying this will be considered and incorporated in the bills seeking to create an institute similar to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have to start somewhere and that somewhere is now. But it’s really intended for the preparation for the future,” Cayetano said.
Dr. Anthony Dans of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, meanwhile, pushed for measures that will help increase the number of health workers in the country. Among them are higher salary grades for medical frontliners, educational scholarships, and an international treaty that would require other countries to pay for the training of health care workers that they will recruit from the Philippines.
“They make us train primary care and then they recruit the people we train. So itatanim natin, sila ang nag-aani. And a treaty should impose some restriction on this. Perhaps we can require them to pay for the training of any primary care provider that they recruit. Perhaps two-fold so that it can make up for lost time,” Dans said.
He noted that of the ideal ratio of 10 doctors per 10,000 population recommended by the World Health Organization, the Philippines only has 6 doctors per 10,000 population.
Dans said the "actual" doctor to population ratio in the Philippines is less than 6:10,000 due to their administrative workload on top of clinical work.
Dr. Aileen Espina of the Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians also called for a law that would cover “telemedicine”, as more people utilize this tool for delivery of health services amid an infectious disease pandemic.
“Kailangan po talagang ayusin ang ICT infrastructure natin and then come up with laws to cover telemedicine, data privacy and telehealth services including kung paano ang pagbayad ng telehealth services natin,” she said.
“Also for the medical education curriculum. We also need to be trained on how to use telehealth, ‘yung new modalities for virtual physical exam, for virtual consults, monitoring and follow up."
Some experts previously criticized the government’s alleged “militaristic” approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and slammed the “unscientific” and “excessive” punishments on those violating quarantine rules.
The Philippines now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, with 119,460 infections, surpassing Indonesia’s tally.