THE conflicting stand between the local government units here in Negros Occidental and the national Inter-Agency Task Force (NIATF) on the "weekend timeout" initiated by the Capitol magnified the classic issues on the devolution of power. There seems to be a tug of war as to who really calls the shot and who should be held accountable on the welfare of the people. It was even sad to note how supporters of Mayor Bing and former Congressman Albee Benitez played the blame game against each other on social media.
There are actually a lesson or two that can be culled out from the political bickering after the "timeout weekend" in the hope of perfecting the existing policies we already have to avert bigger catastrophe.
First, we have to agree to recognize that the Covid situation in this province is already very alarming. You see, Covid-19 pandemic is not just a medical problem but an issue on governance as well. These two sides of the coin cannot be separated, otherwise the interventions will always be wanting. The authority therefore to better assess the gravity of the situation are health administrators, and not just practicing doctors or politicians because then their interest would be on public health and health governance more than anything.
I have a friend who happened to be a seasoned multi-awarded health administrator. He is Dr. Ramon Nery. Presently, he is the chief of J.R. Borja General Hospital in Cagayan de Oro City where I used to work as a consultant. And he has quite a clear understanding on the situation that we are facing right now in our fight against Covid.
When asked what are the existing gaps in health governance as regards Covid war, he said, "The Covid-19 pandemic brings to light a fundamental flaw in our health care system , i.e., a fragmented structure caused by the devolution of power."
Apparently under our present set up, the Department of Health (DOH) does not have full control over the local health facilities which are managed and operated by ill-prepared local government units. It has tremendously compromised the availability, access, and quality of much needed curative care services for the poor patients.
Dr. Nery added that public health now is in disarray, having no integrated national public health program for LGUs under one office. With such defective system to begin with, plus the hit and miss strategies of different LGUs, both national and local response measures are mainly focusing on curative care and social amelioration bypassing the very important preventive measures.
While a lot of LGUs are poorly managing their health system, there are actually success stories too that we can replicate, one of which is Cagayan de Oro. And their strategies are simple and in compliance with the World Health Organization.
Dr. Nery shared, "The main factor of their success are anchored mainly on an efficient public health organizational structure under the City Health Office with a team of competent medical and para medical staff, including an army of barangay (village) health workers and volunteers, the 'foot soldiers' with extensive experience from past outbreaks. Full support of the Local Chief Executive, the City Council, and the whole LGU bureaucracy likewise facilitated the implementation of their successful strategic response against the contagion."
One of the main points that Dr. Nery wanted to highlight is the structural defect of our health system that overlooks the preventive aspect of health governance.
And while the tug of war between the national and local governments continue, I would say that despite the overwhelming negative criticisms being received by the one-time big-time "timeout weekend," Mayor Bing, Governor Bong and former Congressman Albee Benitez were actually on the right track in their attempt of flattening the curve. Mass testing is a preventive strategy that can facilitate better management of the spread of the deadly virus. The "4-day no movement" is also a preventive measure.
To solve our present problem of our hospitals being overwhelmed by Covid patients is not just to add more beds and more doctors but to design a more comprehensive preventive measures that shall be carried out in the barangay level.
Indeed an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure.