Challenges for next health chief: Immunization, TRO on implants

Jee Y. Geronimo
Challenges for next health chief: Immunization, TRO on implants
Janette Garin hopes her successor won't have to encounter the 'inconveniences and problems' she had to go through in her one year and 4 months as health secretary

MANILA, Philippines – On Monday, June 13, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte already named his chosen health secretary: Paulyn Ubial, an assistant secretary of the Department of Health (DOH).

It’s a position that Ubial deserves, according to outgoing Health Secretary Janette Garin.

“I do congratulate Sec Paulyn Ubial for a position that she deserves, and we look forward to turning over many of the programs,” Garin said during a Rappler Talk interview on Tuesday, June 14.

“I’m happy to say that again, we have another woman in the Cabinet. That’s something that we can be proud of.”

Garin has yet to talk to Ubial – who is out of the country – after Duterte’s announcement, but she said the health department has already started on transition reports immediately after elections.

Asked what she thinks the next health secretary should push for, the reproductive health (RH) law was Garin’s top-of-mind.

“Lifting the [temporary restraining order] of the Supreme Court, that’s one,” she answered. She was referring to the TRO on the health department’s distribution and sale of implants, a contraceptive that can prevent pregnancies for up to 3 years.

The decision also prohibited the Food and Drug Administration from “granting any and all pending application for reproductive products and supplies, including contraceptive drugs and devices.”

“That was really sad because it’s a disgrace and it’s also disadvantageous to our mothers who have nothing but to give their children a better life,” she said.

Garin added in a mix of Engish and Filipino: “Even the renewal of permits was affected by the TRO. These family planning commodities and devices are issued permits covering 3 to 5 years. So when the TRO happened, some permits are about to expire; by 2018, even the private sector will not have access to family planning commodities if that TRO will not be lifted. That is the biggest slap that we have now that actually killed the RH law.”

A known RH advocate, Garin’s directive as soon as she took over the department was to focus on service delivery when it comes to the implementation of the RH law.

Calling the TRO an injustice to women and Filipino families, Garin hopes the president-elect will call on the Supreme Court to lift the TRO.

“I believe that President-elect Duterte is a very decisive person and I can sense in him his commitment to push for the RH law. I also believe that the Supreme Court will respect him so much so that his call for the implementation of the law will become a reality,” she added.

Immunization program

Aside from the RH law, Garin said she looks forward to Ubial continuing the health department’s expansion of the immunization program, and making it more sustainable.

“What we have now is [that] the vaccines available for the private patients are already available for the government patients, including booster doses, including vaccines for senior citizens. That is truly universal health care,” she explained.

Garin, who led the department for only one year and 4 months, likened her stint as health secretary to a roller coaster ride.

“When I came in to the department, there were internal problems related to the procurement issues. There were problems in terms of management inside. We had lots of [Commission of Audit] reports. There were lots of red flags. And there were some cases being filed right and left. And full accountability was also not in place, so it was a roller coaster ride. And ang una kong akala hindi natin kakayanin (At first I thought I won’t be able to handle it).”

Since then, she said systems and processes have been put in place within the department, and full accountability has been pinpointed for specific programs.

She also hailed the department’s good fund utilization rate, and any increase in the budget was the result, she said, of a “targeted implementation” of sustainable programs that were felt up to the grassroots levels.

Garin hopes her successor won’t have to encounter the “inconveniences and problems” she had to go through. She admitted she could have done better during her short stay at DOH. 

“Even if I will be outside the department, that will not prevent me from making recommendations, putting forward strategies that will make health care felt by every barangay,” she added.  Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.