How prepared is the PHL for a pandemic emergency?
What if a highly contagious strain of influenza from Kenya, or some other virulent disease, broke loose in the Philippines?
This is the main problem being tackled by the multi-sectoral pandemic disaster exercise at Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City. The exercise involves participants from various sectors —including government, health, water, energy, food, banking, telecommunication, transportation, risk communication sectors, and the military— and is set to run from Sept. 10 to Sept. 13.
A pandemic refers to the rampant spread of an infectious disease through the human population across countries or even across continents.
Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the PREPARE Project (Pandemic Preparedness) is an initiative for countries in Africa and Asia to enhance their responses to public health threats, and to construct pandemic preparedness plans across various sectors of society.
It aims to create a “whole-of-society” approach for disaster preparedness planning.
According to the exercise manual, the activity aims “to provide a realistic platform to demonstrate the challenges which the Philippines would face during a severe global pandemic and to identify any gaps in existing national and local level pandemic preparedness and response plans.”
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the United States Marine Forces Pacific (USMARFORPAC), and the International Medical Corps-PREPARE Project are facilitating the week-long exercise, with support from the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM).
Nicholas Studzinski, Senior Public Health Advisor at USAID, said that the threat of a global pandemic could come to the Philippines in a number of ways: via travellers and tourists; through the international trade of food and other goods; and even as a terrorist biothreat.
Meanwhile, US Marine Forces Pacific executive agent (Navy Ret.) Elizabeth Colina said that this exercise is just one of several bilateral programs between the US military and its Philippine counterpart.
"The Philippine government is a very willing partner (but) here, the issue is understood as a non-tranditional threat,” Studzinski said.
“The Philippines has shown itself to be progressive in terms of legislation, to recognize the needs to deal with major disasters, including pandemics,” he added.
The PREPARE Project in the Philippines was started in July 2011, with pilot testing in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna.
Dr. Noel Miranda, Regional Technical Advisor of the PREPARE Project, said in an interview that “Sta. Rosa City is a progressive city outside of Manila and their local government has been very receptive with the project.”
Miranda was the one who proposed to the USAID that Sta. Rosa City to be the location of the pilot testing.
Studzinski said that the city mayor of Sta. Rosa City, Mayor Arlene Arcillas, has been very active toward promoting better pandemic preparedness.
'The threat is unchanged'
The pandemic disaster exercise is trying to simulate events similar to the Bird Flu —Influenza A(H1N1)— pandemic of 2009.
In his report, National Epidemiology Center Director Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag’s said that the World Health Organization had declared Influenza A(H1N1) a public health emergency of international concern on April 25, 2009.
Five days thereafter, the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) convened a conference to prepare for a potential pandemic.
Fortunately, by May 21, 2009, only one confirmed case was reported from the Philippines.
Nevertheless, Studzinski said that Bird Flu and Swine Flu continue to be major worldwide threats.
“The threat is unchanged and is, in some ways, (even) growing because the virus continues to (evolve),” said Studzinski.
After the kick-off of the program on Sept. 10, the four remaining days are focused on a simulation exercise to assess the capability of each sector to confront a pandemic emergency.
According to the exercise manual, “The events used in this scenario are not factual; they were created to simulate a realistic sequence of events that could occur during a severe global pandemic caused by a highly virulent novel pandemic influenza virus.”
Representatives of different agencies from each sector came together in separate sessions —one for health and sanitation, risk communication, logistics, military and civil defense, telecommunications, water, energy, food, banking, transportation, Sta. Rosa City government, Cainta City government— to produce a preparedness plan and create decisions based on the scenario given.
The facilitators of the sessions provided additional information from time to time, simulating the chronologic development of an actual pandemic, and each sector was tasked to respond on it.
At the end of each session, the facilitators evaluated the performance of each sector to determine what could be improved in their response, and what could be adapted in real-life situations.
The exercise is set to end on Sept. 13, Thursday. — TJD, GMA News
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