IN the wake of the onslaught of the 2019 novel coronavirus that started in Wuhan, China and spread to more than 20 countries through aviation and tourism, the Philippines has become the most likely country where the virus will stay for long.
First, the nation is very near China. Second, we are currently host to hundreds of Chinese workers in the Philippine Offshore Gambling Operation (POGO). Third, China accounts for the biggest bulk of our tourists. Fourth, our trade and cultural relations with this giant neighbor are currently booming. It is just unfortunate that the dreaded virus originated in Wuhan.
But whatever happens, a virus pandemic of this scale is bound to reach the Philippine shores. And we have just been known as the place where the first fatality outside of China occurred. He was a 44-year-old Chinese male who died last week, and whose cremation had been ordered and cleared by the Embassy of China in Manila, according to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Latest figures show there are now 17,200 cases of virus infections, including 140 outside China. The death toll has reached 361 since the first reported outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan on December 31, 2019. At least 26 countries have been affected by the virus.
We believe the Department of Health is capable of doing its primary task of containing the virus which already had its presence felt in the Philippines — with two official cases. But the DOH clearly needs additional funds for this gargantuan effort, and so the department asked the House of Representatives for a supplemental budget of P900 million, the breakdown of which was submitted to the office of Quezon 4th District Rep. Angelina Tan, chairwoman of the House Committee on Health.
Being a physician herself and knowing the extent of the problem, Congresswoman Tan took it upon herself to increase the supplemental budget request of the DOH to P1 billion, to give the department a buffer fund of P100 million.
Tan said the request of the DOH for additional funds is meant to beef up budget requirements of various DOH offices such as the Disease and Prevention Control Bureau for its logistics and commodities; the Epidemiology Bureau for its surveillance; the Health Facility Development Bureau for its health facility preparedness, the Health Emergency Management Bureau for its quick response; the Bureau of Quarantine; the Health Promotion and Communications Service; and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine or RITM.
“I believe that it is also about time that we strengthened the RITM because currently it has only 50 beds for patients with infectious diseases requiring tertiary care, seven of which is for PUIs (patients under investigation). The fear kits or ‘primers’ to identify if a patient is positive for the nCoV is with the RITM,” said Tan.
Tan will also file a resolution to look into the country’s preparedness for health emergencies in light of the report of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB). The GPMB is an independent body that assesses a country’s readiness in case of a worldwide emergency.
The report said the community of nations needs to proactively establish the systems needed to detect and control potential disease outbreaks such as adequate investment, building stronger systems, and strengthening coordination mechanisms.
“We need to be proactive. If we waited until the first case of nCoV has been confirmed before we acted, it could have been too late the hero for us. While the DOH is on top of the situation, the House Committee on Health is closely monitoring the actions of the DOH in their response to this health emergency. We need to get our acts together to spare the Filipinos from this virus,” Tan concluded.
The example showed by Congresswoman Tan in being proactive against threats to public health is most deserving of praise.