Marcos Jr.’s health agenda: No lockdowns, build special hospitals across the country
By Mai Allauigan
In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. promised no more lockdowns and more specialty hospitals outside the National Capital Region (NCR) in an effort to ramp up the pandemic response. While these were welcomed, progressive organizations expressed their concerns over the lack of comprehensive plans for the projects’ funding and setup and plans to improve the welfare of the country’s healthcare workers.
No more lockdowns
Marcos Jr. pledged that the government would no longer implement lockdowns as his administration aims to balance health and economic welfare.
While the country’s old COVID-19 alert system will still be in place for now, he said that the Department of Health (DOH) and other government agencies are already studying how to revise the classifications to be more compatible with the current health situation.
Moreover, he stated that the government would continue to roll out COVID-19 booster shots and bolster information dissemination campaigns on vaccination.
The DOH previously bared that the COVID-19 infections per day may reach as high as 19,306 by August 31 if minimum health protocols are not followed, and vaccination and booster rates do not improve.
Furthermore, OCTA Research showed that the country’s positivity rate was rising, with Metro Manila increasing from 14.2% to 15% and 14 provinces including Albay, Isabela, Quezon, Cagayan, Camarines Sur, Cavite, La Union, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Rizal, Tarlac, and Zambales reaching 20% and above.
Marcos Jr. also vowed that his administration plans to establish specialty hospitals across the country to increase access to healthcare. He cited his father’s health infrastructure projects like the Heart Center, Lung Center, Children’s Hospital, and National Kidney and Transplant Institute as primary examples. Notably, these hospitals were deemed inaccessible during the dictator’s regime.
In addition, he pushed for establishing the country’s own Center for Disease Control and Prevention and a vaccine institute.
“Beyond the issues that the pandemic has brought, the need for a stronger health care system is self-evident. We must bring medical services to the people and not wait for them to come to our hospitals and healthcare centers,” he stated.
While Health for Alliance Democracy (HEAD) secretary-general Albert Pascual said these were welcome developments, he questioned whether the hospitals would be funded by the government or through the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP).
In response to the President’s plan to deploy healthcare workers twice a week in rural health units, Pascual says that the government should instead hire one permanent nurse, one midwife for each barangay, and two doctors for each municipality. This would ensure that far-flung areas would still gain access to medical attention.
Meanwhile, Finance Committee Chair Senator Sonny Angara clarified that the DOH could acquire funding for the specialty hospitals through the Health Facilities Enhancement Fund. He also said that the primary goal of the administration was to lay out a comprehensive blueprint for the initiative, since building all the hospitals within Marcos Jr.’s term was not realistic.
In a statement posted last July 30, the medical mass organization Philippine Medical Students Association (PMSA) denounced Marcos Jr.’s inability to lay out specific plans to improve the welfare of the country’s medical frontliners, citing his detachment from the actual health situation.
Additionally, they slammed the mention of the Medical Reserve Corps Bill, which aims to recruit medical experts, professionals, and graduates who will oversee public health emergencies through a paramilitary setup.
“Instead, the Department of Health should strengthen existing institutions in the health sector, hire health professionals, and fill plantilla positions with accompanying just wages and due benefits. We staunchly oppose further militarization of the health response to a pandemic. In the past three years, we have seen how this punitive approach has proved detrimental to the health and lives of Filipinos,” the statement read.
Ultimately, both the HEAD and PMSA reiterated the call for a scientific and pro-people pandemic response and free and quality healthcare services.