Building a more resilient nation

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us many valuable lessons and I am happy, with the cooperation of our people. The administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is, I believe, on the right track in facilitating our recovery from this global health crisis. Hence, we should continue to reevaluate our capabilities, improve our efforts and consider new legislative solutions that will strengthen our response to existing and future public health threats.

Last Tuesday, the Department of Health revealed that the cholera cases nationwide from 1 January to October this year are 282 percent higher than the cases recorded in the same period last year.

This translates to 976 cases in that period in 2021 to 3,729 cases in 2022. Worse, the disease has already claimed the lives of 33 people since January this year.

The health department also reported last Friday that all regions in the Philippines are at high risk for measles outbreaks due to low immunization coverage and detection. In fact, since the start of 2022, our country has recorded 489 measles and rubella cases, which is 167 percent higher than those recorded during the same period in 2021.

On Saturday, a recent study by the University of the Philippines Population Institute revealed that 7.5 percent (about 1.5 million) of Filipino youth had attempted suicide in 2021, amid the pandemic.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, I find all these reports particularly concerning especially as we are still in the midst of a global health crisis due to Covid-19. While the DoH has recently assured that the “highly immune-evasive” XBB Omicron subvariant has not yet been detected in our country, its entry may just be a matter of time.

I call on our government then to ensure that all our people have easy access to potable water to lower the cases of cholera, which is commonly caused by unsafe drinking water. I also urge every Filipino to exercise good hygiene and sanitation to reduce the risk of the disease.

I also urge our government to step up its immunization efforts against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases to prevent future outbreaks. While our nationwide vaccination campaign against Covid-19 is ongoing, our health officials must also make sure that the government does not divert attention away from other diseases that may be prevented by vaccines, particularly measles and polio.

Finally, we must never lose track of the equally important task of protecting our people’s mental health and well-being. Our former president Rodrigo Duterte signed the Philippine Mental Health Act which aims to provide mental health services at the barangay level and integrate mental health and wellness programs at the grassroots level so that interventions will be felt by the communities. Now, I ask our health authorities to make sure that the government’s programs for mental health are given enough attention and funding.

On the other hand, it is welcome news for me when Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri recently revealed that measures establishing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines are among the bills being prioritized by both houses of Congress.

I have earlier filed Senate Bill No. 2158 to have a CDC which will serve as the lead agency for developing communicable disease control and prevention initiatives. Meanwhile, I filed SBN 2155 to have a VIP that will serve as our principal laboratory for virology research and laboratory investigations. Both will significantly strengthen our country’s capacity to rapidly respond to infectious diseases and other health threats.

Aside from pushing for crucial legislation, I also continue to assist struggling Filipinos in various parts of the country who are facing challenges caused by the ongoing pandemic and other crises.

Last week, I visited San Juan City and personally provided aid to 300 of its microentrepreneurs. I also returned to Davao City to join in the celebration of the Elderly Week in Barangay Mintal and hand out assistance to 1,075 of our beloved senior citizens.

My office likewise aided families affected by recent fire incidents, including three households in Iloilo City; 15 in Taguig City, and 12 in Quezon City. We also helped 316 fire victims in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi; 19 in Iligan City; and six in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental. We also assisted 983 flood victims in Mandaue City, Cebu.

A total of 1,600 indigents in Dasmariñas City, Cavite; 1,000 in Taal and 551 in Ibaan, Batangas; 600 in San Pablo City, Laguna; 498 in Baliuag and 220 in Malolos City, Bulacan; 400 in Tigbauan and 582 in San Joaquin, Iloilo; 277 in Camiling, Tarlac; and 187 more in Hermosa, Bataan were also given aid.

Moreover, in Pangasinan, we extended livelihood support to 250 microentrepreneurs in Dagupan City, 200 in San Jacinto, 178 in Manaoag, 129 in Mangaldan, and 100 in San Fabian. In Negros Occidental, beneficiaries include 300 in Pontevedra and 200 in Don Salvador Benedicto; while in Batanes, 117 in Uyugan and Basco, 93 in Mahatao, and 37 in Ivana were given a boost of support.

Similar assistance was given to 1,000 in Sibalom, Antique; 400 in Suyo, and 200 in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur; 229 in Mangaldan and San Fabian, Pangasinan; 134 in Hilongos, Leyte; 600 in Calbayog, Samar; and 760 more in San Juan, San Gabriel, Sudipen, Bangar, and Luna, La Union.

As we journey together as one nation towards full and inclusive recovery, it is imperative that we remain vigilant and focused on protecting our people’s health and well-being in addition to addressing the urgent needs facing the most vulnerable sectors, particularly the poor, the helpless and the hopeless in our society, who need our utmost attention and support the most.

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