Health security for all should be the government’s guiding principle

COVID-19 cases in the Philippines have been relatively low over the past few months. But just days ago, the Ministry of Health said new variants of Omicron had been detected in the country, while stepping up efforts to prevent the entry of monkeypox.

This is simply not the time to let our guard down. Biological hazards – COVID-19 being just one of them – are a persistent threat to public health in our country. Long before COVID-19, we had already made efforts to integrate biological risks into health policies.

But when the coronavirus hit the scene, all of our plans, coordination mechanisms, ways of responding, and expected realities were put to the test. The whole-of-society approach, we realized, was more than just a buzzword. This should be the guiding principle. It should be a way of life. Everyone has to be involved in some way.

In the Philippines, in our response to COVID-19 from December 2019 until today, and especially during the five waves and outbreaks that have affected Filipinos, we have also had to manage simultaneous emergencies and disasters. There were 17, in fact – the majority are typhoons, a few earthquakes and a few volcanic eruptions. We are saddened by the death toll and the public health burden of the pandemic and these other emergencies and disasters for Filipinos.

But thanks to integrated risk management and whole-of-government approaches, the Philippines has been able to take a more concerted, robust and holistic approach to dealing with the multifaceted challenges and demands of the pandemic, and the concurrent emergencies and disasters.

Through better coordination with different actors at different levels – from national and regional to local – and using existing disaster risk reduction and management systems and structures, we were able to develop and implement a coherent national action against COVID-19.

We were able to call on the scientific expertise of our colleagues to ensure that our policies are solid, that is to say based on the latest available data. We relied on other government agencies and other partners for additional resources. We have engaged local government units, the private sector, civil society and communities, to come together to mitigate the impact and meet the needs of our people in these difficult times.

Lessons learned from our response to COVID-19 have also strengthened our engagement with the National Council for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management. Biological risks are now a top priority. Currently, we are integrating biological risks into our disaster risk reduction and management and development policies, plans and programs. These initiatives are carried out inside and outside the health sector.

We must make every effort to maintain our achievements in our COVID-19 health emergency and response program and improve certain aspects, if necessary. And we call on the international community, with the World Health Organization in the lead, to continue its work on integrating biohazards into disaster management policies and on the potential for whole-of-society approaches to make a real contribution to the greater task of ensuring the health and safety of our people.

Ronald Law,

Bellagio Center, Italy

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