President Rodrigo Duterte will soon certify as urgent a bill which creates a Center for Disease Control and Prevention to institutionalize the country’s health emergency framework, with an integrated concept of rapid-onset risks and decisive intervention.
Crafted by House Ways and Means chairman Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, with 166 co-authors, House Bill No. 6096 is considered historic in scope, being the country’s first bill to incorporate all key elements of health emergency management.
Salceda filed the proposal for the creation of the CDC in January and the measure is now pending with the House committee on health.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier expressed support for the passage of the bill, which was made more relevant by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thank the President for his openness to certifying the bill as urgent. This is a bill with 166 co-authors, so once we get it moving, it will pass very quickly,” Salceda said.
“The bill institutionalizes the inter-agency approach that the government, through the IATF, has done, but it provides a step-by-step blueprint for grand planning during pandemics. One of our weaknesses during this crisis is a systems-based view of the problem. We do individual interventions, but during system-wide risks like pandemics, you need system-wide solutions,” Salceda added.
The country, with its tropical location, large population and fast rate of urbanization, and a highly mobile transborder population—OFWs, tourists, foreign workers—is especially prone to communicable diseases, both emerging reemerging, threatening public health safety, said Salceda.
He said quick and decisive intervention is not expected out of a bureaucracy, thus the need for a high-level public institution imbued with the capacity, the competencies, the ecosystem, and the authority to decisively confront health risks, and enable development to proceed.
The highlights of H.B. No. 6096 are as follows:
1) The CDC is created under DOH supervision, but with broader policymaking, implementation, surveillance, disease control and prevention powers over communicable or infectious diseases, which are rapid on-set in nature, to ensure an early intervention;
2) Separation of the Disease Control and Prevention Bureau of the DOH, with the CDC absorbing communicable disease units in a newly established Communicable Disease Prevention Bureau, to solidify the delineation between communicable and non-communicable disease prevention and control in the least organizationally disruptive manner possible;
3) Absorption of the Epidemiology Bureau and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine into the CDC. This would strengthen the CDC’s disease control and prevention capacity;
4) Creation of the Disease Emergency Management Bureau (DEMB) to calibrate the CDC’s response to health emergencies;
5) Grant of broader quarantine powers to the Secretary of Health and the CDC;
6) Creation of the Health Emergency Coordination Council (HECC), which shall coordinate national government response to health emergencies, and which shall declare the existence of a state of health emergency;
7) Authorize Local Government Units to use calamity funds during a state of health emergency;
8) Broad health emergency powers to the HECC and the CDC including a redefinition of the relationship between the CDC and the Bureau of Quarantine during health emergencies;
9) A comprehensive health emergency management framework, including provisions for vaccination and treatment, isolation and quarantine, and disease surveillance;
10) The creation of a National Health Emergency Response Unit (NHERU)-- with an elite unit of pandemic-specific first responders—under the DEMB, which shall act as the frontline force in ground and surveillance operations of the CDC; This shall be a well-trained unit of first-responders;
11) A comprehensive framework for tracking public health emergencies; and
12) A mandate for the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of Health to recommend beneficial agreements on exchange of health information with international organizations and with other countries, and immediate access to vaccines.
Salceda said the bill also mandates the creation of what he calls a “Grand Plan for Pandemic Control,” a comprehensive health emergency management framework, including provisions for vaccination and treatment, isolation and quarantine, and disease surveillance.
“This is a very comprehensive bill that anticipated every stage of pandemic management, and it will be useful to have it with us now, since this is a crisis that may last a while,” Salceda said.
“On the one hand, we do have to adapt to new normal conditions. At the same time, we must never lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is to defeat this virus so we can return to the old normal. Let’s not aim to make the new normal the permanent normal. Let’s beat COVID-19 with a solid framework for disease management,” Salceda said.