Press Release
June 15, 2009

Pia: Strengthen public health system vs. A(H1N1) outbreak

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today said the declaration by the Department of Health (DOH) of the very first community-level outbreak of A(H1N1) in a remote farming village in Jaen, Nueva Ecija should prompt the government to strengthen the public health system to enable local communities to cope with the influenza scare and other public health emergencies.

"We can't help but be puzzled how, of all places, the first A(H1N1) outbreak would happen in a most unlikely environment, that is, an isolated village which has no record of 'balikbayans' or where locals seldom see outsiders," said Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice.

"The incident only proves how crucial it is for government to prioritize programs that would reinforce the capacity of local communities to be prepared to defend themselves and take care of their constituents at times of health emergencies," she added, noting how many far-flung barangays lack basic facilities for health care, as well as medical personnel like doctors, nurses and adequately trained community health workers.

She noted that the Philippines only allots a budget equivalent to 2 to 3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for health services, which is way below the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) that developing countries should a lot at least 5 percent of their GDP for health.

Also, she said that the pronouncement by the DOH that the spread of the virus was now inevitable should be followed up by a comprehensive program for the mass training of barangay health workers, and an effective education and information grassroots campaign to raise public awareness on the A(H1N1) threat.

Cayetano further noted that medical personnel themselves must be made to take proper precautions, noting that the DOH has identified that one possible source of A(H1N1) infection in Barangay Hilera was agroup of doctors and nurses who visited the village for a medical mission sometime in May.

"If the investigation of the DOH would yield that the infection indeed originated from the team that conducted the medical mission to public elementary pupils in Barangay Hilera, then that would be the height of irony. This only shows that medical professionals and workers should also be asked to take precautions since they are not only potential recipients, but also potential carriers of the A(H1N1) virus."

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