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Lancet ranks Philippines 66th in COVID-19 suppression, says Duterte a factor

The Lancet, a leading international medical journal, ranked the Philippines 66th out of 91 countries in suppressing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), partly due to the “medical populism” of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a study published September 14, The Lancet ranked 91 countries based on incidence or the number of new cases per million population per day and also assessed mortality rates, tests performed, and effective reproduction rates (ERR).

The Lancet COVID-19 Commission classified the Philippines as having “moderate transmission” with 37.5 new infections and 0.5 new deaths per million per day in August.

The country also conducted 8.2 tests per case daily last month and had an ERR of 1.2.

The Philippines has logged 291,789 infections as of Tuesday afternoon, still the highest across Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, the study said 19 countries successfully suppressed COVID-19 in August, ten of which are in the Asia-Pacific region: Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, China, Myanmar, Malaysia, New Zealand, Uganda, Togo, Pakistan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Uruguay, South Korea, Finland, Cuba, and Rwanda.

The Lancet defined suppression of COVID-19 as having five or fewer new cases per million population per day in August.

On the other hand, “very high transmission” of COVID-19 was observed last month in 11 countries, six of which are in the Americas: Bolivia, Spain, Kuwait, the United States, Argentina, Israel, Brazil, Bahrain, Colombia, Panama, and Maldives.

The Lancet stressed that COVID-19 can be suppressed through non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as “effective community health services... to be followed by the introduction of effective and safe vaccines as rapidly as science permits.”

Key NPIs include wearing face masks, observing social distancing, banning large public events, protecting members of the vulnerable population, and providing social support for those in isolation, among others.

The commission also urged countries to scale up their public health workforces “with all urgency” to implement NPIs.

‘Medical populism’

“One reason for failure to suppress the epidemic is a style of political leadership that has been called medical populism,” The Lancet said.

Citing Filipino researcher Gideon Lasco, the study defined “medical populism” as “simplifying the pandemic by downplaying its impacts or touting easy solutions or treatments, spectacularizing their responses to crisis, forging divisions between the ‘people’ and dangerous ‘others,’ and making medical knowledge claims to support the above.”

“Lasco makes three cases in point: the US President Donald Trump, the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro,” the commission said.

“Not only does medical populism frustrate the implementation of NPIs, but it also stokes opposition to simple measures such as wearing face masks, and it breeds misinformation and rumour trafficking,” it added.

In July, Duterte caused alarm among scientists when he said in a nationally televised address that gasoline can be used as an alternative to alcohol to disinfect face masks. 

An association of Filipino chemists later warned the public that gasoline should not be used as a disinfectant. 

Duterte has also repeatedly told Filipinos that a vaccine is the only way to stamp out COVID-19, even urging the public not to listen to members of the opposition who are calling for the government to improve its pandemic response. 

The Lancet underscored that the core strategy of nations should be to introduce NPIs, provide financial and humanitarian support amid the pandemic, and hasten the introduction of vaccines.

“We also call on all governments to prioritise advice from the professional public health community, working in cooperation with international agencies and learning from the best practices of other nations,” the commission said.

“Additionally, we call on all nations to combat the rampant rumour-mongering and misinformation that abounds on COVID-19, and we call especially on leaders to desist in expressing personal viewpoints that are at odds with the scientific and public health experts of their nations,” it added.

Medicine transforms society

According to its website, the Lancet is an independent, international, peer-reviewed weekly general medical journal committed to applying scientific knowledge to improve health and advance human progress.

As trusted sources of information, the Lancet journals publish some of the best science from the best scientists worldwide, providing an unparalleled global reach and impact on health.

Launched on July 9, 2020, the Lancet COVID-19 Commission aims to assist governments, civil society, and UN institutions in responding effectively to the
COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission says it aims to offer practical solutions to the four main global challenges posed by the pandemic: suppressing the pandemic by means of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions; overcoming humanitarian emergencies, including poverty, hunger, and mental distress, caused by the pandemic; restructuring public and private finances in the wake of the pandemic; and rebuilding the world economy in an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable way that is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Many creative solutions are already being implemented, and a key aim of the Commission is to accelerate their adoption worldwide, according to the journal.—LDF, GMA News