The Stratbase ADR Institute, in cooperation with consumer advocacy group CitizenWatch Philippines, held last Friday a virtual roundtable discussion (vRTD) entitled, “The Philippine Health Care Systems: Emergent and Pressing Issues, Approaches and Perspectives amid the COVID-19 Crisis,” a new series of online forums that will tackle strategic issues and solutions as the country now ventures into a gradual reopening of economic activities.
Invited speakers from the academe, government, and the private sector shared their analyses and recommendations to more than 150 attendees on the issues surrounding the global pandemic contextualized in local scenarios.
Dr. Ronald Mendoza, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, posited that, “promoting a health anchored recovery” is an effective way to regain a stable, inclusive, and robust economy. He cited the importance of: 1.) “technology” (e.g. rapid testing, mobile tracking apps, real-time information sharing, and telemedicine; 2.) “trust” of constituents to comply with directives and willingness to share vital information; and, 3.) “transform” the conventional health system’s structure into a more agile, cost-effective, and inclusive one in a crisis situation.
He is correct to emphasize that the economic recovery of the country should be underpinned by extensive test, trace, and treat capabilities to prevent the occurrence of a more catastrophic relapse.
I support his position that there must be strong trust in the government for effective crisis response. Fear and hesitancy will reduce the effectiveness of necessary safety restrictions and will hold back consumers and investors from re-engaging our economy.
Sherwin Ona, Chairperson of the Department of Political Science, De La Salle University and a Senior Researcher of the Jesse Robredo Institute of Governance, commented that the government should shift to a more “desecuritized approach” to the pandemic.
Among his proposals are: 1.) the reexamination of the national security policies, which consist of classifying pandemics as a non-traditional threat, making the manufacturing of medical supplies and equipment a strategic industry, and reviewing the modernization programs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Philippine Coast Guard; 2.) building stronger communities and developing agile institutions by reviewing possible amendments to the Disaster Risk Reduction Management and Disease Surveillance laws, expanding the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and establishing the Philippine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, pursuing digital transformation through Ease of Doing Business and National ID laws, and promoting research and development; and, 3.) forging greater international cooperation particularly with the ASEAN for humanitarian assistance and participation in World Health Organization initiatives related to COVID-19.
Dr. Eduardo Banzon, Principal Health Specialist of the Asian Development Bank, further stressed the importance of testing, tracing, and isolation in controlling the spread of the virus. He is active in Task Force T3 (Test, Trace, Treat), a government and private sector project to expand the testing capacity to more than 75,000 per day. He said that, “the moment we get to that level, we will be able to prevent infections and control the spread of the virus into a slow burn.” Looking at it from an investment perspective, this aggressive testing and isolation is still the most advantageous in terms of benefit-cost ratio.
He further explained that sustainable social distancing will be part of the new normal in the health sector. While for telemedicine, though it had been introduced in the country quite some time ago, might have an opportunity to take off and be part of regular medical practice.
Frontliners and stakeholders also shared their reactions and perspectives on how the country can evolve and recover towards the so-called “new normal.”
Dr. Beverly Ho, the Department of Health’s Special Assistant to the Secretary of Health for Universal Health Care (UHC), mentioned that the “COVID-19 response was able to fast track the UHC reforms.” She said that “the sudden thrust to the pandemic type of response can even catalyze things that many people thought that would be impossible to happen for UHC.” She acknowledged that the government is very appreciative of the increased cooperation of the private sector in this crisis response, with high regard for the formation of the Task Force T3 and that on the health department’s end, they would ensure that the opportunities will not be squandered and will get the initiatives launched so that the public may freely adapt the new normal of the healthcare system.
It is not yet too late to control the contagion and at least start a positive momentum of the economy so our people can re-engage in livelihood activities. To achieve this, we must persist with heroic efforts, discipline, and cooperation of each inhabitant in the country.
We are now suffering from decades of neglect in contrast to the advanced universal healthcare systems of neighboring countries. Let us use this crisis as an opportunity to learn the hard lessons, address our weaknesses, and re-engineer our systems and policies towards recovery.
Victor Andres “Dindo” ManhiT is the President of Stratbase ADR Institute.