Press Release
May 6, 2009

With P100 M allotted in the 2009 national budget

Senator Edgardo J. Angara today said that although the Influenza A (H1N1) - or swine flu - outbreak has darkened global prospects for recovery by 2010 introducing panic and distress to economies already broken by the global financial crisis, the country may have found a helpful response in the form of the country's National Telehealth system.

"Barely recuperating from last year's credit crunch, financial systems around the world are again reeling under the unexpected shock of the swine flu outbreak. Investors - foreign investors in particular - are again jittery, damaging emerging market currencies and stocks. The travel and tourism sectors also suffer a direct and severe hit. In anticipation of decreased demand for livestock, corn and other feed stocks have also dropped. These, and concerns over a prolonged economic downturn, prompted oil prices to fall below US$49 a barrel last week," said Angara who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance.

The swine flu, or H1N1, is a new strain of the influenza virus that first surfaced in Mexico City and has since then spread to the United States, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Britain and Israel. Last week, the World Health Organization raised its alert level to a notch short of a pandemic, warning that while confirmed cases of swine flu have yet to be tallied, the virus is spread by person-to-person contact and is beyond containment.

Overall, the World Bank estimates that a pandemic could cause nearly a 5 percent drop in world economic activity amounting to about US$3.1 trillion.

He added, "Amidst a global recession, any further drop in productivity could have an exacerbated impact on local economies. Should the shock of swine flu, for instance, increase the estimated unemployment rates even by a percentage, this would have far-reaching consequences on the economy, affecting people's capability to pay mortgages and tempering an already dampened consumer appetite, to name a few."

Angara stressed that stimulus packages that governments have earlier introduced might not be enough to combat such ramifications.

President Barack Obama has already requested the US Congress to release US$1.5 billion worth of emergency funds to combat swine flu. The World Bank has announced its plans to shell out $205 million to finance Mexico's programs in containing and combating the disease.

He said that while the government has been quick to respond to the swine flu scare, so far, these measures, such as tightened security in airports and stocking up on face masks and Tamiflu, don't seem to be enough. For instance, he added, it is very possible that swine flu could develop resistance against the drug Tamiflu. Also, thermal detectors in airports can only detect fever, while the other symptoms of swine flu - such as coughing, sneezing, headaches, and chills - are left to the observation of airport personnel.

Angara added that the country must think long-term in preparing for the current swine flu threat. More than anything, the swine flu outbreak emphasizes the need to invest in public health infrastructure, both to prevent and battle swine flu, the senator said. Further, he cited that it underlines the need for concerted cooperation among health units all over the country, so that they may readily detect and deliver swift and quality treatment to patients suspected to have the disease.

In Mexico, deaths from swine flu are highest because most patients do not seek care until it's too grave to treat them.

In the 2009 National Budget, the senator allotted P100 million for a National Telehealth System as part of the government's stimulus package. It provides an avenue for information-sharing among health professionals, which is necessary to determine symptoms of swine flu. Experts in Manila could provide diagnosis to far-flung provinces through telehealth.

"Very often during periods of austerity, we see cutbacks in public spending in healthcare. The swine flu outbreak should make us rethink this bias against health spending, and highlight the imperative of providing access to healthcare to Filipinos. A good measure of a society's level of civilization is how it treats its members' health," added Angara who is the main author of PhilHealth Act.

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