House committee passes CDCP bill

The House Committee on Health passed Tuesday House Bill No. 6096 which seeks to establish a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), under the supervision of the Department of Health but with broader policymaking, implementation, surveillance, disease control and prevention powers over communicable or infectious diseases.

The measure was filed by House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, in January last year, in anticipation of the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

It has since been co-authored by 167 House members, some of whom 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 Rodrigo Duterte identified it as a priority bill in his last State of the Nation Address, and the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) has recently made it 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, Salceda said, “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 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 said.

“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 added.

Widely considered as a pioneering and comprehensive approach to pandemic planning and management, Salceda’s bill includes the following key features:

• 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. 

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