Revamp IATF, Medical groups urge Bongbong

President-elect Bongbong Marcos Jr. should alter the composition of the government’s highest policy-making body on the Covid-19 response to make it more effective, according to medical groups.,Medical groups said the incoming Marcos administration should include them in the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), which is currently composed of outgoing President Duterte’s Cabinet members.,Marcos, who will assume office on 30 June, has yet to name his health secretary who will serve as chairperson of the IATF.,It also remains unclear whether he will keep the task force that was formed by the late president Benigno Aquino III and utilized by outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte to craft policies about the coronavirus pandemic that struck the country in early 2020.,Select advisers whose specialty involves infectious diseases and data analytics are part of technical working groups of the IATF, but the medical community has “very small” contributions to the policy-making body, said Dr. Jose Rene De Grano, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines.,“It would be better if private hospitals are given the chance to participate in policy-making because our response involves a whole-of-society approach,” he told the Daily Tribune in a phone interview.,“We are willing to join them [IATF members] so we can contribute to decision-making processes,” De Grano added.,The private sector played an important role in the country’s pandemic response, as it delivered health services needed when Covid-19 infections nearly pushed state-run facilities to the brink.,Philippine Nurses Association President Melvin Mirada, who is also dean of Manila Central University College of Nursing, also recommended the inclusion of a nurses’ group in the IATF.,“We are pushing for the representation of nurses in the IATF, as well as in local health boards in provinces, cities, and municipalities, because we need to be heard, too,” he said in another interview with the Tribune.,The health crisis further magnified the struggles of Filipino nurses who had to take care of Covid-19 patients for long hours for little pay on often precarious short-term contracts, while some of them contracted the respiratory disease.,Many of them relied on additional compensation packages provided by the government but they said these were delayed.,About 40 percent of private hospital nurses have resigned since the start of the pandemic, as some of them opted to work abroad, according to Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAPI).,New chairperson

While the Secretary of Health sits as the body’s chairperson, the Cabinet Secretary and the Secretary of Environment are serving as co-chairperson.,Public health advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon, a former adviser to the IATF, said the Health Secretary need not lead the IATF so he could focus on his other duties, including the day-to-day operations of his department.,“Perhaps an undersecretary, representing the Secretary of Health, can sit at the IATF meetings,” he said.,“The Secretary of Health can do nothing if he is sitting all day during meetings. How can he work when all of the hours are spent there? You cannot be in different places at the same time,” Leachon added.,The IATF holds a weekly meeting to discuss issues related to the country’s pandemic response. It acts as a recommendatory body and has the power to impose travel bans and decide on Covid-19 alert levels that will be imposed on provinces and cities. New policies are ratified through resolutions.,Sitting as members of the task force are the secretaries of interior, agriculture, education, foreign affairs, information and communications technology, justice, labor, national defense, public works, social welfare, and tourism.,Also part of the IATF are members of the economic team, mainly, secretaries of budget, finance, trade, and transportation departments and the National Economic and Development Authority.,Leachon said the private sector should be represented during IATF meetings.,“We have seen how the Covid-19 pandemic affected all aspects of Philippine society, including our economy. So the private sector should be heard, too, so the government could immediately address their points,” the former government adviser added.,Whether Marcos will introduce changes in the IATF is up to him, but for Leachon, the biggest challenge for the next administration is appointing the “right people” people who will serve as IATF members.,The Covid-19 situation in the Philippines at present has become manageable, which experts attributed to anti-coronavirus shots that were received by nearly 70 million Filipinos.,The health department, however, observed an uptick in infections in recent weeks following the detection of more transmissible Covid-19 variants.,The country reported 308 new cases on Sunday, the highest single-day jump since 20 April.,Doctors have reminded the public to follow minimum public health standards like wearing face masks and physical distancing to lessen the risk of acquiring the disease.