Editorial: Inventory

THE Philippines ranks 53rd in 195 countries in the Global Health Security (GHS) Index 2019 report. It scored 47.6, a bit higher than the world average of 40.2 out of a possible 100.

The GHS Index measures how ready countries are in the event of bio-emergencies, from nuclear leaks to disease outbreaks. The rating is determined through 34 indicators and 85 sub-indicators, the “findings are drawn from open source information that answered 140 questions across the categories.”

We scored zero in five security indicators, namely: 1) Linking public health and security authorities; 2) Communication with healthcare workers during public health emergencies; 3) Dual-use research and culture of responsible science; 4) Biosafety; and 5) Joint external evaluations and performance of veterinary services.

Over 80 percent of the 195 countries more or less share the same weaknesses as the Philippines. Biosafety measures remain wanting, there is a lack of partnership between the health agencies and the security authorities and efficient communication among health workers are hardly in place.

To recall, in the very first Senate hearing on the Covid-19, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, upon hearing the Department of Health’s difficulties in contact tracing, suggested to Secretary Francisco III that the agency should seek the help of the Philippine National Police. That was then a clear indication on the absence of a firm protocol on inter-agency coordination in times of a bio-threat.

The Philippine health situation has a stack of one doctor per 33,000 patients and one hospital bed for every 1,121 patients. Utterly dismal picture from the ideal of one doctor per 1,000 people and five beds to a thousand, as indicated by the World Health Organization.

Just recently, after weeks of confidently assuring the public that government was “on top of the situation,” Duque suddenly admits we only have a handful of Covid-19 test kits. The cheaper and quicker version developed by University of the Philippines scientists still needs a field test. That, while in a matter of days, the figures on confirmed Covid-19 cases leaped from 24 to 33 to 52. These are, however, what fall within radar, either voluntary submissions or through contact tracing. The thermal scanners can only do so much when carriers can be asymptomatic for days. There are no accessible test routines, at least those that the larger public know of.

While our health agency constantly cites that we had comparatively sufficient lead time to prepare for an outbreak, much of the measures that we hear are told in the future tense. This comes at a time when, supposedly, the sin tax reform should have by now transfused hefty resources for public health. And, yet, the zero scores in a number of indicators in the 2019 GHS Index report. Worse, public health staggers from a budget cut. So, no, we’re not on top of the situation, sirs. There is palpable lack of coherence among agencies; not even a market area disinfection can dispel impressions on government’s lack of foresight in the face of a bio-emergency.

To allude to an old TV drama, we’re manning our North Wall with ill-equipped combatants.