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DOH is in good hands

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary and Spokesperson, Dr. Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire, had become a familiar face, updating the nation on the latest Covid-19 statistics, reporting the government’s efforts and response against the global pandemic, and providing relevant information that would help save lives.

But behind the camera, she had a lot more to do as she took on the arduous responsibility of managing the DOH’s Covid-19 response cluster. She led round-the-clock surveillance and outbreak monitoring, coordinating and mobilizing inter-sectoral pandemic response initiatives, convening multiple technical expert bodies, and commanding critical policy development activities of the department.

Moreover, as Health undersecretary, she set into motion the implementation of major reforms prescribed under the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law. She headed the DOH’s Primary Care Technical Working Group that developed pivotal policies on making comprehensive care accessible to all.

Now, under the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., DOH Officer-In-Charge Vergeire takes on a heightened role. She uses the lessons gained from the Covid-19 pandemic to further UHC reforms, such as ensuring timely patient access to appropriate health care services for all diseases through the establishment of healthcare provider networks; implementation of zero co-payment for indigent patients through financial streamlining in public hospitals; the promotion of access to medicines through effective procurement and supply chain management and drug price policies; and the continuous strengthening of the healthcare workforce, among others.

In the first 100 days of the DOH under the Marcos administration, the department has accelerated vaccination and booster rollout. As of Sept. 30, 2022, the DOH had vaccinated 93.63 percent or 73.1 million individuals, including 6.85 million senior citizens aged 60 years old and above, or 78.52 percent of the A2 population. Meanwhile, 25.37 percent of the general population or 19.81 million individuals have been inoculated with their first booster dose. The Covid-19 vaccination was also extended for special populations such as Persons-Deprived-of-Liberty (PDLs), homeless people in the communities, and indigenous peoples in different localities. As of Sept. 15, 2022, 122,726 PDLs or 93.05 percent of the target 131,893 were fully vaccinated while 105,146 or 79.72 percent of eligible PDLs were inoculated with their first booster dose.

Covid-19 testing capacity was also improved through the timely detection of cases vis-à-vis the gradual reopening of the economy. As of Sept. 30, 2022, there were over 350 DOH-licensed Covid-19 testing laboratories with an average daily demand-driven output of 17,788 tests per day.

The efficient control and management of new Covid-19 cases are necessary to effectively maintain the country’s wins against the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, the DOH strengthened inter-agency collaboration.

The government successfully deployed 48,146 Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) and 54,195 contact tracers in barangays nationwide for rigorous contact tracing efforts. Through collaboration with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and local government units (LGUs), 920 local establishments are being utilized as quarantine facilities. Moreover, as part of the government’s efforts to ensure the safety of the public, the LGUs issued 87,304 Safety Seal Certificates to business and government establishments, jails, and regional offices.

In promoting the welfare of Healthcare Workers (HCWs), the government has disbursed ₱26.69 billion in Covid-19 health emergency allowances (HEA), and ₱6.60 billion for the grant of the One Covid-19 Allowance (OCA) as of Sept. 30, 2022. For the Covid-19 sickness and death compensation, 58.08 percent or 79,102 claims were paid out of the 131,605 claims filed cumulatively since 2020. The Department is still coordinating with the operating units on the accomplishment of other remaining claims.

Meanwhile, to revitalize the long-term health sector goals of the UHC, the DOH has been bolstering Healthcare Provider Networks established during the Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s referral system was critical in successfully managing the healthcare utilization rate (HCUR) through the DOH Data Collect Hub and active flagging of hospitals with critical HCUR classification. For the period of July 1 to Sept. 30, 2022, the National Patient Navigation and Referral Center (NPNRC) catered to 89 percent of successful referrals within 48 hours.

To expand healthcare access, six specialty centers that are among the priority facilities for 2022 were already completed, bringing the total number of functional specialty centers in the country to 46. These are the neonatal center in Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMHMC), Batangas Medical Center (BMC), Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC), and Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), as well as the cancer specialty center in Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC) and SPMC.

The DOH has also prioritized the completion, upgrading, repairing, and/or equipping of 1,661 health facilities, including 1,034 barangay health stations, 323 rural health units, four polyclinics, 125 LGU hospitals, 79 DOH hospitals, 15 military hospitals, and 88 other health care facilities.

The DOH, through the leadership of OIC Vergeire, concretely demonstrated the essential services, mechanisms, and systems that Filipinos can expect their local government units to provide under the Universal Health Care.

OIC Vergeire has been known by Filipinos during the pandemic, but the work that she has accomplished and continues to do as a public servant is beyond just the pandemic. Her vision for the DOH is to deliver tangible outcomes where the most vulnerable have access to care, and indigents do not have to pay anything in public hospitals — the UHC in its most practical form.

With OIC Vergeire at the helm of DOH, the department and the entire health sector are in good hands.

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