Addressing gaps, preparing for future health crises

These past two years have been challenging for the health sector. The Covid-19 pandemic was an eye-opener for all of us, making us realize just how crucial strengthening the country’s health care system is.

During these unprecedented times, I have to admit that serving as the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health in the previous Congress was not an easy task. We had to address the most pressing concerns while consciously aware that a misstep can cost the lives of our fellow Filipinos.

Still, we persevered and as our country is now on the path toward recovery, I am honored to lead the Senate Committee on Health once more. This time around, our focus is to sustain the gains we’ve achieved in our fight against the pandemic, prevent being caught unaware by yet another health threat, and further strengthen the country’s health care system to prevent it from being overburdened again by future public health emergencies.

Thus, in the Senate Committee on Health’s organizational meeting this Monday, we have invited representatives from the Department of Health and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to brief us on the Philippine health situation and Universal Health Care Law implementation.

Particularly, the status of the government’s pandemic efforts shall be discussed. More than 4,000 new Covid-19 cases have been reported consecutively in the past few days. We need to ascertain that all necessary steps are being taken to help prevent the virus from further spreading, especially as our students are set to return to full face-to-face classes in a few months.

We shall also look at the reported issue on vaccine wastage, which was raised by Sen. Risa Hontiveros in her proposed Senate Resolution 92. We have done well the past year in acquiring sufficient vaccine supply, but we must amplify these efforts further in order to reach areas with low vaccination rates and ensure that vaccines would not go to waste.

The threat of monkeypox will also be highlighted. Earlier, I and Sen. Robin Padilla had filed proposed Senate Resolution 85, directing the Health and Demography Committee to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the preparedness of the country to contain and suppress monkeypox, which has been declared by the World Health Organization as a public health emergency of international concern.

The rising cases of dengue shall likewise be addressed. Based on the Department of Health’s data, there were 92,343 dengue cases recorded in the country from 1 January to 23 July — 118 percent higher compared to the cases reported during the same period in 2021.

These and other health-related challenges will be discussed to ensure that our country is more equipped to face health emergencies and our people are better protected against health threats.

In line with this, I will also continue to exercise our oversight functions as legislators on the implementation of the Malasakit Centers Act and push for the continuous launching of more Malasakit Centers across the country to provide more poor and indigent patients convenient access to medical assistance and quality public health care.

Even before the pandemic, I am glad that I was able to author and sponsor the Malasakit Centers Act as I have seen firsthand just how much low-income Filipinos struggle just to avail medical assistance. To date, more than three million patients have been assisted by 151 Malasakit Centers nationwide.

I wish to also ensure that our efforts are aligned with the priority legislative measures under the Marcos administration as these coincide with my priority bills, particularly those providing for the creation of the Philippine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines.

The twin bills are part of my top 20 priority measures to help ensure that the country’s health care system can better respond to infectious diseases.

I hope that by also supporting the other priority legislative measures under this administration, we can sustain the gains of the Duterte administration and build a stronger and more resilient nation, as envisioned by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

As we all strive toward this collective goal, we should ensure that no Filipino is left behind. That is why, I continuously provide assistance to our vulnerable sectors nationwide to give them a much-needed boost for their faster recovery.

On 10 August, I visited Taytay, Rizal to witness the turnover of land titles to 35 informal settlers, and personally spearhead the distribution of additional aid to them, together with 40 homeowners’ association presidents and youth presidents. Earlier that day, I also led the relief activity for 1,000 displaced workers in the town.

The following day, on 11 August, I and Sen. Padilla personally distributed aid to 500 tricycle operators and drivers in Maasin City, Southern Leyte. We then traveled the next day to Iloilo province to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the San Joaquin Super Health Center and lead the distribution of assistance to 500 struggling individuals in San Joaquin and another 1,448 residents in Guimbal.

We also gave due recognition to the country’s firefighters as I attended, as the guest speaker, the Bureau of Fire Protection’s 6th National Fire Olympics 2022 in Davao City last Saturday, 13 August. We must continue to raise awareness on fire prevention efforts and communicate other safety measures to ensure that Filipinos are well-informed on how to avoid fire incidents.

Meanwhile, my outreach teams provided immediate assistance last week to the victims of several fire incidents, including 39 families in Manila City; 16 in Pasig City; six in Las Piñas City; five in Maasin, Iloilo; and 200 individuals in Davao City. Just yesterday, we also distributed assistance to around 200 families who were affected by the recent fire incident in Bacoor City, Cavite.

We also brought support to 1,000 struggling residents in Olongapo City, Zambales; 1,000 in Dasmariñas City, Cavite; 1,000 in Magsaysay, 800 in Salay, and 1,000 in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental; 789 in San Miguel, Bohol; 1,000 in Tanauan, Batangas; 1,666 in Cagayan de Oro City; and 776 in Malolos City, Bulacan.

In Nueva Ecija, we also helped 70 residents in Carranglan, 60 in Cuyapo, and 20 in Talavera. A total of 59 nuns from St. Mary’s in Silang, Cavite also got assistance.

I hope that collaborative efforts will continue this 19th Congress to ensure that we can create policies that will strengthen our health care system and address the needs of our countrymen and women, thereby facilitating the faster recovery of our people from the ongoing pandemic.

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