President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has instructed Dr. Ted Herbosa to craft a COVID-19 exit plan for the country and focus on tuberculosis and HIV cases, the new Health Secretary said Thursday.
Herbosa, a former Special Adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said this was among the marching orders of the Chief Executive when he appointed him to lead the Department of Health.
“(Mr. Marcos) told me that we need a COVID exit plan and we must continue to administer the needed vaccines, the ones we call bivalent vaccines,” Herbosa said in a televised briefing.
Conceding that the country currently does not have enough bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, the new Health chief said a program is already in place to acquire more of these anti-coronavirus shots.
“The 390,000 doses (we received) are not enough, we need to get more,” said Herbosa, referring to the bivalent vaccines donated by Lithuania that have already been rolled out, mostly in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Herbosa acknowledged there are technical difficulties in obtaining the jabs that protect against the original COVID-19 strain, SARS-CoV-2, and Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
“But we are already there. We’re trying to get it, and I will push for getting more of these, especially for the vulnerable, the healthcare workers,” he said, noting that the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines given over the pandemic has been waning.
The country’s COVID-19 task force last year said the pandemic exit plan must include strict implementation of health protocols. The government may require the public to show their vaccine booster cards in establishments.
Stakeholders, meanwhile, have urged the government to improve the country’s health care system.
The Philippines last week tallied 9,107 COVID-19 cases, based on the DOH case bulletin on Monday.
From May 29 to June 4, an average of 1,301 daily infections were logged in the country, which is 22 percent lower compared to the previous week.
Herbosa said he also received marching orders to focus more on the problem of tuberculosis cases in the country. The President noted the country is ninth in the world in TB cases, and wanted the Philippines out of the top 10 right away.
He said Mr. Marcos also raised concerns on the rising cases of HIV, which causes AIDS, in the Philippines, and this will be the top health official’s focus too “upon his instructions.”
This will be the DOH’s priority for now, Herbosa said, and other action officers have been mobilized to focus on tuberculosis, HIV, and COVID-19 cases.
Herbosa also said there was a need to digitalize the agency’s processes to improve its system, now that the government already launched the eGovPH platform.
The DOH chief also aims to lower the public’s expenses on health care, saying this was the intention of the Universal Healthcare Law.
Meanwhile, Octa Research fellow Guido David said the weekly COVID-19 positivity rate in Metro Manila dropped from 19.9 percent to 14.6 percent.
“We expect this to decrease less than 10 percent next week as cases continue to decline,” said David.
He also said hospital bed occupancy in the region also went down from 28.8 to 25.5 percent over the same period.
Furthermore, the nationwide positivity rate is 16.6 percent as of June 7, lower than the previous day’s 17.7 percent.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerie said the rise and fall of COVID-19 infections in the country are expected.
“This is due to the lower number of tests conducted and the public’s increased mobility,” said Vergeire, who led the DOH as officer-in-charge until Mr. Marcos appointed Herbosa.
In an interview on ANC, Herbosa said Vergeire will oversee other undersecretaries in charge of the activities in the NCR, Southern Luzon, Northern and Central Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
“I gave her a position of like the chief of all the undersecretaries that are in charge of our operations… Those are five Usecs and she would be on top of them,” he said.
“She will be helping me deliver the goals with her experience and her previous job as caretaker of the Department of Health will continue in that segment of operations. She requested for that and I gladly gave
it because I think she deserves that,” added Herbosa.
At present, DOH Undersecretary Enrique Tayag heads the field implementation and coordination team in Northern and Central Luzon; Undersecretary Nestor Santiago Jr., in NCR and Southern Luzon; Undersecretary Camilo Cascolan in Visayas; and Undersecretary Abdullah Dumama Jr. in Mindanao.