DOH told to optimize use of funds to warn public vs domestic health risks

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 19 2019 10:03 PM | Updated as of Nov 19 2019 11:19 PM

MANILA (UPDATE)- A lawmaker called the attention of Health Secretary Francisco Duque Tuesday, as the Senate deliberated on the department’s proposed P96.3-billion appropriation for 2020.

Neophyte senator Francis Tolentino said the Department of Health did not optimally make use of the close to P1 billion advertising and communications budget for the current year in promptly informing the public of domestic health concerns such as the polio outbreak, dengue fever prevalence, TB incidence, even African swine fever cases.

“The message is still the same — it’s still the need for the secretary of health to be the surgeon general… We usually feel the impact of the advertisements during the Christmas season, before the new year’s eve: Iwas Paputok - sunod sunod po yan sa radyo at telebisyon,” he said.

“I encourage the good secretary to fully utilize the budget to be given him by this Congress, and to fully utilize the powers of his office to exercise the functions of being the [PH] surgeon general,” he added.

Tolentino said the DOH should be proactive in its information dissemination campaign, noting that in the case of the polio outbreak, for example, it reacted several months after the World Health Organization issued a warning.

“Ang polio virus, ito ay pinag-usapan as early as May 2019 when the WHO released a statement on the international spread of polio virus after the first meeting of the emergency committee in Geneva.

“It took 4 months, dumating po ang August 2019, before the DOH finally identified the priority areas to be strengthened and it took them another month to come up with a catch up [polio] vaccination plan in Mindanao and Metro Manila,” said Tolentino.

The DOH exhibited similar belated responses in the case of dengue and the other diseases, he added.

“Nagkaroon po tayo ng dengue alert on September 17, 2019. Aug. 2019 kung kailan 600 po ang namatay, nagdeclare ng dengue outbreak. Pero sa datos ng WHO, inasahan as early as January of 2019 magkakaroon ng dengue sa Pilipinas."

“TB... 2017 top 8 country po tayo sa TB cases… [despite passage of] Comprehensive TB Elimination Plan Act of 2016. ASF… I congratulate Sec. Duque for in August 22, 2019 he advised the general public to cook pork thoroughly. Bakit po pagkatapos ng Aug. 22, 2019 tumigil na po tayo?”

Tolentino said Duque could have been more aggressive in informing the public that ASF is not fatal to humans, even as he pointed out that a municipal officer in Nueva Ecija was one of the first to publicly announce the same.

'Evidence-based' information

However, Duque told ABS-CBN News that public health advertisements take time because the agency opts to complete its surveillance of affected areas before releasing announcements.

“You can have all the reminders, all of the media placements, but unless you do the surveillance, communications will not be that effective,” he said.

“We have to be evidence-based. Mahirap naman yung wala kaming evidence then we start going out, telling people ganun, ganito,” he said.

The DOH is not keen on hastening the release of its public health advertisements, but will “improve surveillance,” Duque said.

“We’ll be more aggressive on all fronts not only in terms of communications, strategic communications, but also continue to do more active surveillance,” he said.

Duque also reminded local government units to take part in the information dissemination campaign of the DOH.

The Senate Finance Committee is proposing a P597-million appropriation for the department’s health promotion strategies. Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, proposes to realign a portion of this to Universal Health Care due to some P143.94-million in still unused funds.

- with a report from Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News