House bill seeks network of testing labs under new DOH bureau
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—A bill filed in the House of Representatives sought to put in place a network of labs capable of detecting, handling and preventing deadly viruses.
The proposed Philippine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Act seeks to address “existing vulnerabilities” in health and economic systems that were unmasked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it is clear that we cannot go back to the way things were before if we want to better respond to similar problems in the future,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Jose Enrique Garcia.
The Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH) is currently in charge of promoting biosafety.
Garcia said his bill takes its cue from the evaluation by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the Philippines’ Internal Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 and consultations with public health experts. IHR serves as legal framework for global health security, according to WHO in a September 2018 report.
In its explanatory note, the bill said the IHR urges all governments to “foster the institutional capacity of the health sector to lead the prevention, detection and response” to public health emergencies and events.
It also said governments must “further optimize the public health emergency preparedness and response action at regional and local levels” by investing in “advocacy, guidance, training and exercising” and improve cooperation in national and sub-national levels.
Garcia said in the bill that the DOH “undoubtedly employed everything within its means to control the spread of the virus.”
But he said there was a need to establish a “separate institution attached to the DOH.” This, he said, is “clearly the way forward in building the capacity and level of readiness of the government.”
The proposed DOH bureau, he said, would specialize in “handling surveillance in support of disease prevention and control” that would be complemented by “exemplary expertise, state-of-the-art facilities and laboratories and appropriate resources.”
Public health emergencies that would be addressed “could be chemical, biological, radioactive or nuclear in nature,” the bill said.
According to Garcia, some countries showed greater success in handling COVID-19 cases by setting up an agency “dedicated solely to disease prevention and monitoring.”
Garcia said the CDC bureau, as an attached agency of the Department of Health, will consist of a “laboratory network with facilities possessing proper biosafety accreditation, with the center serving as overseer and regulator.”
With expanded testing capabilities, the government can set up one Biosafety Level (BSL) 4 laboratory, which can handle the deadliest pathogens, and at least five additional BSL 3 facilities, “similar to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).”
“We need more surveillance and testing centers across the country,” said Garcia.
“If we can set up our own CDC, then it will be possible for us to have facilities like RITM in at least all of the major islands in the Philippines.”
“Local surveillance will be key in early detection, prevention, and response,” Garcia added.
Edited by TSB
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