Health security for all should be the guiding principle

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COVID-19 cases in the Philippines have been relatively low for the past several months. But just a few days ago, the Department of Health declared that new Omicron variants have been detected in the country, while it has ramped up efforts to prevent the entry of monkeypox.

This is simply not the time to put our guard down. Biological hazards — COVID-19 being just one of them — have been a persistent public health threat in our country. Long before COVID-19, we already had some efforts to integrate biological hazards into health policies.

But when coronavirus entered the picture, all our plans, coordinating mechanisms, ways of responding, and expected realities were put to the test. The whole-of-society approach, we realized, was more than just a cool buzzword. It should be the guiding principle. It should be a way of life. Everyone has to be involved one way or another.

In the Philippines, in our COVID-19 response from December 2019 to the present, and especially during the five waves and surges of cases that affected Filipinos, we also had to manage concurrent emergencies and disasters. There were 17 of them, in fact—majority are typhoons, some earthquakes, and a few volcanic eruptions. We are saddened by the death toll and public health burden of the pandemic and these other emergencies and disasters to Filipinos.

But thanks to the integrated risk management and whole-of-government approaches, the Philippines was able to have a more concerted, solid, and holistic approach to address the multifaceted challenges and demands of the pandemic, as well as concurrent emergencies and disasters.

Through enhanced coordination with different players at different levels—from national and regional to local—and by making use of existing disaster risk reduction and management systems and structures, we were able to develop and implement a coherent National Action Plan Against COVID-19.

We were able to tap the scientific expertise of our colleagues to make sure our policies are sound—that is, based on the latest available evidence. We relied on other government agencies and other partners for additional resources. We involved local government units, the private sector, civil society, and communities, to stand together to mitigate the impact and address the needs of our population during these trying times.

The lessons learned from our COVID-19 response also strengthened our engagement with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Biological hazards are now a top priority. Currently, we are mainstreaming biological hazards in our disaster risk reduction and management and development policies, plans, and programs. These initiatives are being done within and outside the health sector.

We should exert all efforts to sustain our gains in our COVID-19 response and health emergencies program and improve some aspects, if need be. And we call on the international community, with the World Health Organization, taking the lead, to do further work on integrating biological hazards into disaster management policies and on enabling whole-of-society approaches to really contribute in the big task of ensuring the health security of our people.

RONALD LAW
Bellagio Center
Italy

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