Duque dismisses WHO advise to protect his reputation

Duque dismisses WHO advise to protect his reputation

- in Opinion
Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III gestures as he answers questions from reporters in Manila, Philippines, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

In the past 3 years, the Philippines has made impressive progress in infrastructure. After decades of neglectful governance by oligarchs, out country has finally begun to catch up on sorely needed public works like highways and hospitals. However, the economic growth and infrastructural development we’ve enjoyed for the last few years is nowhere near what we should have and what the Filipino people deserve.

This is why President Duterte has not yet taken his foot off the gas with the ambitious flagship Build, Build, Build program. Halfway through his term, he is still increasing the number of projects. Obviously, we are still on the journey and have not yet arrived at the destination.

But Health Secretary Francisco Duque III says that our heath care system is fine as it is and doesn’t need any further improvement.

His statements were in response to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s declaration of n-COV as a global health emergency. WHO specifically cited the concern for countries with weaker healthcare systems.

After the last week of global panic, experts and science communicators are working hard to disseminate information to quell rising public fears. The n-COV strain is being properly handled by health officials and while we are still cautiously approaching the possible pandemic, figures so far show that is far less deadly than originally feared.

However, SOH Duque is taking the complete opposite direction. Instead of being cautiously pragmatic, he is being dangerously self confident. As the public official in charge of the nation’s health care system, it is concerning that he is so blasé about the WHO’s warning.

n-COV, which was originally documented in the Hubei province of China specifically in Wuhan, has been the subject of international panic over the last few weeks. Chinese scientists were able to successfully create a genetic profile for the virus within a week of its detection and this information has been key to the diagnosis of the possibly infected.

So far, the virus is nowhere near the deadliness of SARS or even swine flu. It seems most dangerous to elderly patients, particularly men, with preexisting conditions which make the vulnerable to the known grave symptoms of upper respiratory tract diseases.

Through Duque’s admission, he’s dismissing the safety and concerns of our senior populations as well as those of the otherwise immuno-compromised.

“Hindi. Palagay ko ang binabanggit nila diyan tingin ko Africa, mga mahihirap na mga bansa,” Duque said.

However, Philippine public policy and response does not support Duque’s self-assessment. We’ve limited travel to international travelers from Hubei province. This travel prohibition was recently expanded to include all of mainland China. As a popular tourist destination and archipelago, we are extremely vulnerable to the spread of diseases, fatal or not.

Even the House of Representatives is seeking to strengthen out institutional capacities to prevent similar outbreaks and increase public health. Speaker Cayetano’s House Bill No. 8 seeks to create a health passport system to facilitate higher quality medical care to patients and strengthen the DOH’s ability to tract diseases in the population.

While our nation is definitely miles ahead of how it was before President Duterte’s term, it still routinely fails its citizens in its delivery of health services. For example the Philippine General Hospital, one of the most visited government hospitals in the country, is still riddled with issues of overcapacity and under staffing.

Secretary Duque needs to open his eyes and see that the work is nowhere near done. We cannot be satisfied until we are addressing all the needs of our countrymen. You cannot be so dismissive and you cannot assume that your job is done. The President never rests and as his cabinet member you cannot either. Every country, even those with the strongest health systems and perfect medical care, should treat their systems as if they are weak and continuously improve.

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