Experts note how COVID bared flaws in PH healthcare regulation
MANILA, Philippines — The lack of a sense of urgency and unclear delineation of roles remain weak points in the country’s pandemic response.
This was the view shared by the medical and policy experts comprising the Advisory Council of Experts (ACE), a group organized by Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion. The body includes some of the country’s leading authorities on medicine, public health, economics, and research and data analytics who provide guidance to the private sector.
Concepcion expressed concern that the same mistakes in the country’s Covid-19 vaccination efforts would be repeated in the procurement of bivalent vaccines.
“We can’t afford to make the same mistakes with our bivalent vaccines,” he said, noting how delays in the decision-making contributed to billions of pesos worth of vaccines reaching their expiry date without being used.
The businessman led private sector efforts to procure Covid-19 vaccines in the early days of the pandemic through a tripartite agreement that overcame regulatory roadblocks.
What went wrong
The Department of Health (DOH) recently announced that it had already reached out to vaccine manufacturers to secure bivalent vaccines against COVID-19. It is currently waiting for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“This time around, we should know what went wrong, what went right, how to move forward so we can execute well,” said public health advocate Dr. Tony Leachon.
Medical experts have noted that the foremost cause of the delay in the Covid-19 response was the lack of clarity on the roles of the Vaccine Expert Panel (VEP) and the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC).
Already, the government’s different vaccination bodies have become a virtual alphabet soup: the VEP, Nitag, HTAC, FDA and FEC.
The VEP was established under the Department of Science and Technology while the rest are under DOH supervision. The ACE members have observed the duplication of their roles and the overreach of their mandates. The HTAC examines cost-benefit and effectiveness studies before the government proceeds with vaccine procurement, while the VEP makes recommendations regarding age indication and priority populations for immunization.
However, it is the HTAC that is tasked with formulating the guidelines.
Former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Dr. Janette Garin said this setup ought to be followed. But “unfortunately, it’s not happening that way. HTAC rules. Even if the expert panel or specialty society say otherwise, fear prevails if HTAC does not give the go signal,” she said.
“Clearly, the functions overlap across the committees. Time to delineate each and maybe collapse one or two,” said Dr. Maricar Limpin, former president of the Philippine College of Physicians.
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