MANILA (UPDATE) — President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has directed the health department to also prioritize its campaign against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and tuberculosis infections, which pose threats to public health.
Marcos said there were "other issues beyond COVID-19."
“Let’s start refocusing again on the general public health concerns. Siyempre COVID has not come away. [We] still have to deal with it but let’s not deal with COVID...at the expense of all these other public health concerns,” Marcos said in a short video shared by Malacañang.
This comes following a spike in new HIV cases in the country this year, as COVID-19 restrictions eased.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said strict pandemic protocols had hindered individuals from getting tested.
“People were not able to go for screening, were not able to get their medicines because of the lockdown, so what we did during the time of pandemic, we were already sending per individual or per patient ‘yung kanilang mga gamot through LBC para lang makainom sila ng gamot," said Vergeire.
(During the time of pandemic, we were already sending medicines per individual or per patient just so that they could take their medication.)
From January to September 2022, the DOH tallied 11,476 HIV cases. Of the figure, 813 were deaths due to any cause and not necessarily AIDS-related among people with HIV.
The Department of Health is working with other sectors and agencies to make services accessible, the Palace said.
Meanwhile, Marcos also called on the DOH to boost its anti-tuberculosis drive.
Vergeire said though that the health department's program dubbed "TB-DOTS" has become "innovative" and is set to be included in the country's national care program.
The agency has also partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which donated a tool that uses artificial intelligence for tuberculosis screening.
“Mag-X-ray ka dito for example ‘yung province A, will just be sent to an app on the phone in minutes you get your chest x-ray reading to artificial intelligence and right away you subject the patient to sputum examination, and in 3 to 4 hours they start your medication,” noted Vergeire.
“We’re trying to go around the different provinces to do this. Hopefully, we get to reduce the number of cases,” she added.
Tuberculosis has rebounded globally after years of decline, killing an estimated 1.6 million people in 2021, up 14 percent in 2 years, World Health Organization figures showed in October.
Most of the estimated increase in TB deaths globally was accounted for by 4 countries, including India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.
HEALTH WORKERS' BENEFITS
In a press briefing, Vergeire said the DOH and the President also discussed the COVID-19 benefits of healthcare workers.
The health agency has requested from the Department of Budget and Management an additional funding of P27 billion for the health emergency allowance (HEA) of medical frontliners
This will cover the HEA claims of over 2.1 million eligible public and private healthcare workers and non-healthcare workers from July 2021 to December 2022, the DOH earlier said.
The agency and Marcos also talked about the procurement of bivalent vaccines following the emergence of more transmissible coronavirus variants, Vergeire said. These are modified COVID-19 vaccines that target the omicron variant and the original form of the virus.
Vergeire said the DOH also told Marcos about its hopes for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
Marcos recently appointed Emmanuel Rufino Ledesma Jr. as the new acting president and chief executive officer of the state health insurer.
Vergeire earlier said she wanted reforms for PhilHealth, such as expanding the outpatient benefit packages to include mental health and improving the payment method for healthcare providers.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse