Monday, April 27, 2009

In the Face of Swine Flu Threat, Pass Public Health Emergency Council Bill Now

In the face of the threats to public health by the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and the United States, and the World Health Organization’s warning to the rest of the world, I call on the President to certify as urgent and both chambers of Congress to pass House Bill No. 72 which seeks to create the Public Health Emergency Council. I first filed the bill in 2003 but the 12th and 13th Congress failed to act on it, but I am hoping that the 14th Congress will see the necessity of its passage in the face of this most recent outbreak.

While the Philippines successfully withstood the SARS pandemic six years ago, the country was not able to establish and institutionalize measures to counteract future infectious disease outbreaks and even biological attacks from terrorists. What the government did was only to implement reactionary measures specific to the SARS outbreak at that time.

The proposed creation of a Public Health Emergency Council (PHEC) will ensure that an emergency response template is in place whenever a public health emergency such as an outbreak of infectious diseases or even a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon attack.

If passed into law, the PHEC is convened immediately after the President declares a State of Public Health Emergency. In order to address and contain the effects of such a threat to public health, the PHEC shall formulate the Public Health Emergency Plan which shall detect, prevent the spread, contain and manage public health emergencies resulting from an outbreak of highly contagious or infectious diseases, or even biological, chemical or nuclear attack.

During a State of Public Health Emergency, the PHEC in coordination with other national and local government agencies, and other entities identified in the Public Health Emergency Plan, is empowered to take control over private medical facilities if government facilities are insufficient, control pharmaceutical agents and medical supplies, implement quarantine of persons, facilities and materials, and even impose disposal measures for the remains of persons who died of highly infectious diseases.

Among the other powers of the council is the management of information to ensure that the public is adequately informed about the public health emergency while at the same time balance the information to prevent panic and misinformation.

If passed into law, the bill will ensure that the country will be prepared for future public health emergencies that are caused by unusual contagions or unconventional weapons.

The bill may be viewed here.

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