[B-SIDE PODCAST] Public health before political games

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are surging. Nurses are not getting paid and hospitals are filling up. Cities have been locked down since the beginning of August. And the Philippine economy probably won’t recover until the end of 2022 or 2023. 

 In this episode of B-Side, Joey Francis Hernandez, treasurer of the Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians, speaks with BusinessWorld’s Russell Louis C. Ku about the Philippine pandemic response and holding our leaders accountable. 

Communication has serious consequences.  

On Aug. 5, the eve of lockdown, long lines were seen at vaccinations in cities such as Manila and Las Piñas as Filipinos feared that no jab would prevent them from going out to claim their ayuda or cash assistance from the government. This came as President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered police to escort unvaccinated Filipinos to their homes in a recorded address on July 28.  

Mr. Hernandez said that “it’s not enough for us to be able to possess technical knowledge on things … we should also be able to complement it with effective and persuasive communication which is also highly evidence based.”  

Government units should evaluate on who should be the primary source of information as conflicting statements would lead to an erosion in public trust.   

Determining public policy is a two-way street. 

House lawmakers filed a resolution seeking to probe the OCTA Research group — private researchers who have been relied upon by the government in shaping its public policy through projections on the spread of the virus — in a bid to seek accountability after health officials slammed the group for their “incomplete” and “erroneous” data.  

Mr. Hernandez said that he understands the need for accountability as inconsistent predictions may lead to “undue panic,” highlighting the need for more research experts in the field of epidemiology and public health.   

However, he said that it is the responsibility of the Department of Health (DoH) to listen and to collaborate by making its data clean and accessible. 

“It is not only the government that has the monopoly of expertise and authority. Therefore, we need technical and operational support and resources of the private sector. And also, to the private sector to be responsible in whatever pronouncements they make public.”  

The budget has to be translated into a proper pandemic response.  

 Adding to the concern of dealing with a surge in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, the Commission on Audit flagged the DoH for its non-compliance of government procedures in its use of over P67 billion in pandemic funds.  

“The issue surprised us and caught us off guard considering that we have a lot of needs that are unmet … This could have been the perfect time to institute improvements. However, these deficiencies found by CoA… shows the need to heighten the sense of urgency and efficiency matching the gravity of the pandemic,” Mr. Hernandez said. 

Health is political, but public health precedes politicking. 

You cannot separate health and politics, Mr. Hernandez said, especially with the devolved nature of our health system that is mostly under the responsibility of local government units.   

This comes especially as Mr. Duterte ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Department and Department of Interior and Local Government on Aug. 10 to distribute ayuda to a particular city in Metro Manila, which was seen as an attack on Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso.  

“If there are political clashes… it can affect how things get rolled out in certain areas of the country especially since progress is not seen uniformly in the country,” Mr. Hernandez said.  


Recorded remotely on Aug. 14. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez and Sam L. Marcelo.

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