MANILA, Philippines – Outbreaks in shores distant from the Philippines are still a concern of the country according to President Benigno Aquino III, because of the millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) spread throughout the globe.
On Monday, October 13, Aquino emphasized how recent outbreaks such as MERS-Coronavirus and Ebola “are among the greatest challenges the world faces today” especially the Philippines, which is vulnerable to the entrance of such viruses because of OFWs.
“For the Philippines, specifically, the fact that we have 10 million of our countrymen living and working abroad makes these kinds of outbreaks a paramount concern,” he said at the 65th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.
Aquino said such outbreaks – especially a MERS-Coronavirus scare early this year of an infected OFW entering the country – have given the administration the opportunity to review its processes when dealing with medical emergencies.
“That rather harrowing time gave us the chance to take a good look at our systems, to identify areas that could be improved upon, and to make those improvements. Soon after, I signed an Executive Order creating an interagency task force to manage emerging infectious diseases in the country; and even then, the work continues,” he said.
“Among the questions we need to keep asking ourselves are: How can we best educate our countrymen about these outbreaks, without spreading fear and panic? Is there an efficient and safe way to monitor our countrymen’s exposure to diseases, and to repatriate them, while ensuring their health, as well as that of the general populace?”
Aquino vowed to “exert every effort and undertake all possible initiatives to find answers to these questions and keep our countrymen safe and healthy as pandemics threaten to spread.”
The President also emphasized the importance for countries to work together to battle health threats like outbreaks, adding “we can all agree that we work better, and more efficiently, when we work with others, whether to monitor and contain outbreaks, or to meet the Millennium Development Goals, or to anticipate and prepare for global health concerns.”
He did not, however, announce any plans of sending Filipino medical workers to West Africa to help battle the virus.
Over the weekend, Malacañang said Aquino was still mulling his options on how the Philippines can assist the international community regarding this global problem.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona earlier said the government will decide this week whether it will send health workers to West African countries affected by the Ebola virus.
The WHO said 4,033 people have died from Ebola as of October 8 out of a total of 8,399 registered cases in 7 countries. The sharp rise in deaths came as the United Nations said aid pledges to fight the outbreak have fallen well short of the $1 billion (800 million euros) needed.
Improvements in health
In his speech, Aquino also talked about the efforts of his administration to improve public health in the Philippines.
Among the initiatives he hailed include:
- Passage of “critical legislation” such as the sin tax bill and the reproductive parenthood and reproductive health bill, with the former resulting in a decrease in smoking prevalence
- P46.38-billion ($1.04 billion*) allotment from 2010 to 2014 to upgrade and rehabilitate public health facilities
- Required children vaccinations and regular check-ups for pregnant mothers who are beneficiaries of the government’s conditional cash transfer program
- Expansion of PhilHealth or free healthcare coverage