President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday tasked the Department of Health (DOH) to prioritize the campaign against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and tuberculosis infections.
Mr. Marcos asked DOH officer-in-charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire about the Health Department’s TB-DOTS program, which aims to eradicate tuberculosis in the country.
“Let’s start refocusing again on the general public health concerns, of course COVID has not come away. [We] still have to deal with it but let’s not deal with COVID at the expense of all these other public health concerns,” the President said in a meeting with DOH officials in Malacañang Palace.
Vergeire told Mr. Marcos that the Health Department had become “more innovative” in the fight against tuberculosis, noting that the agency would launch the primary care program that includes TB-DOTS.
According to the DOH OIC, tuberculosis had reemerged because of its high transmissibility, adding that the illness usually affects people from the lower income brackets of society.
Vergeire said there were a lot of multi-drug resistant cases of tuberculosis because the public could still buy medicines for this disease over the counter.
“So, for example, they have prescriptions that will be given by doctors who just need them, medicines for just one, two months, they will not finish their medicines and they become resistant,” Vergeire said.
Meanwhile, Vergeire admitted the DOH needed to intensify its surveillance and monitoring as the agency loses TB patients due to internal migration.
She also said the DOH already partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) after it donated a tool using artificial intelligence.
“So, you had an X-ray here, for example, the province A, will just be sent to an app on the phone; in minutes you get your chest x-ray reading to artificial intelligence and right away you subject the patient to sputum examination, and in three to four hours they start your medication,” Vergeire said.
“We’re trying to go around the different provinces to do this.
Hopefully, we get to reduce the number of cases,” she added.
When it comes to HIV, Vergeire said the DOH had “gained headway prior to COVID-19 but encountered hurdles during the pandemic because of state-imposed curbs.”
Vergeire said HIV cases rose during the pandemic as a result of restrictions, which prevented people from undergoing HIV screenings.
“People were not able to go for screening, were not able to get their medicines because of the lockdowns, so what we did during the time of pandemic, we were already sending per individual or per patient their medicines through LBC so that they could take their medication.” Vergeire said.
Vergeire said the DOH is already working with lawmakers and with the judiciary department to fight the stigma and discrimination, which have been preventing people from seeking medical attention if they are experiencing HIV symptoms.