Obviously having learned vital and urgent lessons from the raging Covid-19 pandemic, the House Committee on Health passed last Tuesday House Bill 6096 which seeks to establish a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), under the supervision of the Department of Health (DOH), but with broader policymaking, implementation, surveillance, disease control and prevention powers over communicable or infectious diseases.
Crafted and filed by House Ways and Means Committee chair, Albay Rep, Joey Sarte Salceda, in January 2020, in anticipation of the spread of the global pandemic in the country, the measure has finally been co-authored by 167 House members. Some of whom have filed similar measures premised on the original bill’s “concept of sudden onset of health emergencies,” and the adoption of a “more holistic public health preparedness and response framework.”
President Duterte identified it as a priority bill in his last State of the Nation Address, but left the final decision on it to Congress. The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) has recently made it as a priority reform measure for enactment this year.
Duterte urged the creation of the CDCP agency “to better prepare for pandemics, protect lives, and allow development to proceed even in the worst of times.” Its structure, as pointed out by Salceda, “will ensure rapid response actions that are not hampered by bureaucratic processes.” Once created, the CDCP will likely be under the supervision of the Health Emergency Coordinating Council (HECC), chaired by the DOH Secretary.
There are health crises where cases have the potential to escalate in numbers and scope very quickly, and where coordinated containment and treatment are promptly required. That will often involve law enforcement, community management, and a whole swathe of other disciplines. Clearly, that’s not just a doctor’s specialty anymore. So, you need a more holistic public health preparedness and response framework,” Salceda pointed out.
“The emergencies can come from anywhere, and at any time, although their nature can be predicted, and thus prepared for. That’s why it works to have institutional muscle. It’s like preparing for the Olympics. You do decades of work and practice for the day when an emergency comes, except, unlike the Olympics, you don’t know when that day will be. So, we need a framework that’s not buried in the DOH bureaucracy to work full-time in preparing the country for future pandemics,” he explained.
Strongly pushing the measure during its deliberations, Salceda urged the Committee to focus the CDCP’s mandate on fighting infectious diseases only. The bill “insists on decisive response at the pre-communicable stage, including the apprehension of pre-communicable individuals if needed, because this is where outbreaks can be prevented. He also urged the panel to keep such focus because if it becomes “too large against its own good, to include non-communicable diseases, it will be bogged down by the same bureaucratic issues that led us to its creation in the first place.”
“The successful fight of Vietnam against COVID-19 centered on this particular strategy of hard and early isolation of the infected few over the diffuse and soft isolation of the suspected many. This author’s proposal and its copies refiled by colleagues is the only one among the different versions that insists on this distinction,” he noted.
Widely considered as a pioneering and comprehensive approach to pandemic planning and management, Salceda’s bill includes the following key features:
• Creation of the CDCP as an agency under the supervision of the DOH, but with broader policymaking, implementation, surveillance, disease control and prevention powers over communicable or infectious diseases, and absorbing communicable disease units of the newly established Communicable Disease Prevention Bureau.
• Absorption of the Epidemiology Bureau and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine into the CDCP to strengthen its disease control and prevention capacity.
• Creation of the Disease Emergency Management Bureau (DEMB) to calibrate the CDCP’s response to health emergencies.
• Granting broader quarantine powers to the Secretary of Health and the CDCP • Creation of the Health Emergency Coordination Council, which shall coordinate national government response to health emergencies, and which shall declare the existence of a state of health emergency;
• Authorization for LGUs to use calamity their funds when a state of health emergency is declared;
• Grant of broad health emergency powers to the HECC and the CDCP, including a redefinition of the relationship between the CDCP and the Bureau of Quarantine during health emergencies;
• A comprehensive health emergency management framework, including provisions for vaccination and treatment, isolation and quarantine, and disease surveillance;
• Creation of a National Health Emergency Response Unit (NHERU), a well-trained unit of first-responders, under the DEMB, to serve as the frontline force in ground and surveillance operations of the CDCP;
• A comprehensive framework for tracking public health emergencies; and
• A mandate for the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of Health to recommend beneficial agreements on exchange of health information with other countries and international organizations.
Salceda said the CDCP bill is “a twin of the Department of Disaster Resilience” bill, which he also principally authored and sponsored.