PHL: Not that prepared for a pandemic disaster
In a three-day exercise, somebody played god and put most of the Philippines’ government, public and private sector on the spot—in a simulated pandemic event that progresses from time to time.
Result: various sectors need to address at least 11 points to be able to face a pandemic disaster properly, said Usec. Benito Ramos of the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) during the press conference held on Sept. 14 at Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City.
The simulated pandemic disaster exercise is spearheaded by NDRRMC with the US Marine Forces Pacific (USMARFORPAC), and the Internal Medical Corps-PREPARE Project, with support from the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM).
The project, which was the culmination of the five-day activity from Sept. 10 to 14, was funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The pandemic disaster exercise aims to promote a “whole-of-society” or multi-sectoral approach in case a pandemic hit the country. In fact, the activity was duly attended by representatives from government agencies as well as the private sector and civil society.
“Hindi lang ito (pandemic) responsibilidad ng DOH (Department of Health) kundi lalo na ‘pag kalat na… ‘Pag umaabot na sa pandemic proportions, apektado tayong lahat. So, ano bang effect niyan? Magkakaroon tayo ng political instability,” said Ramos.
“I think that the international consensus is that the upcoming pandemic will be beyond the capacity of health ministries,” said Nicholas Studzinski, senior public health advisor at USAID, in an earlier interview.
No pandemic disaster preparedness plan
One of the major gaps the activity found in pandemic disaster response in the Philippine setting is that the country does not have a National Pandemic Disaster Response Plan.
Facilitators of the activity deem it necessary to have proper protocols, preconceived rules of engagement (ROE), and proper communication tools and means within and between the different sectors to be able to respond to the pandemic properly.
Other issues the Philippine society needs to address are as follows:
- The need to be more proactive in providing guidance and directives to all sectors according to the alert levels. Further, the need to clarify regional alert systems vs. country alert
- Need to enhance capacity of Philippine public health facilities
- Addressing requirement and impacts of action like cremation or mass burial
- All sectors/agencies need to practice cooperating, voluntarily sharing resources, and not practice turfing while being a member of the whole of society national pandemic organization
- Assessment of the capability for pandemic response of reservists
- Need to integrate the risk communication sector with the NDRRMC/Operations group
- Relevance of information sharing/management to all sectors and appropriate messaging
- Involvement of National Economic Development Authority in recovery planning on pandemics
Source: NDRRMC Presentation
The exercise is the first of its kind in the country that is why representatives from different sectors believe they still have much to learn about a multi-sectoral approach.
Ramos also said that the Philippines has a lot to improve in terms of pandemic disaster response.
Ramos said he believes the country can still improve should a pandemic disaster occur as we have already come out with our own disaster preparedness plan prior to the exercise—Republic Act 10121.
RA 10121 or the "Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010" aims to serve as the framework for managing risks and responding to disasters experienced by the country.
“Hindi lang ‘yung government kundi kasama ‘yung civil society diyan (sa batas),” said Ramos.
The PREPARE Project shall also be held in other parts of world, including African countries like Uganda, Ghana and Kenya, said Robert Okumu, Africa Liaison Officer of the International Medical Corps.
“There are so many challenges in the country… biological, et cetera… so we need to prepare now,” said Okumu.
Okumu added that like in the Philippines, the “whole-of-society” approach is also new in Africa.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Studzinski said that a similar consultation program with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be held in Manila come first week of December.
Studizinski said that USAID’s partnership with the Philippines has always been intact and the country’s reception toward these kinds of initiatives has always been positive. –KG, GMA News
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