Pia seeks probe on readiness of PH health system for the ‘new normal’

Senator Pia S. Cayetano seeks to conduct legislative inquiries into the current state of the country’s public health infrastructure and health service delivery, with the end goal of improving our responsiveness to the COVID-19 pandemic and other future health emergencies.

The senator on Wednesday (May 13) filed two Senate resolutions urging the appropriate committees to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the future of our public health system in preparation for the ‘new normal.’

Senate Resolution No. (SRN) 403 seeks to assess the capacity of the “public health infrastructure and the accessibility of vital medical equipment and supplies” to respond to the current pandemic and future health emergencies.

While acknowledging that supplemental measures allowed the government to reinforce the healthcare system for COVID-19, Cayetano noted that mounting cases continue to push our healthcare facilities to their capacity limits.

“Modeling forecasts show that the number of COVID-19 cases in the country may peak towards 70,000 to 75,000 cases within the next three months,” the senator noted, citing a report by the Department of Health (DOH).

“Despite having 68 percent of the country’s hospital beds in Level 2 and Level 3 hospitals where COVID-19 patients can be treated… recent estimates [still] show that hospitals in the country fall relatively short from the optimal 42,856 beds, with one hospital bed available for every 1,121 Filipino patients,” she further cited.

Furthermore, Cayetano mentioned the lack of basic sanitation facilities in the country’s healthcare centers. A 2019 World Health Organization study revealed that four percent of health facilities in the Philippines have no toilets, while 23 percent utilize unsanitary toilets, thus allowing the spread of infection among communities.

The senator also pointed the need to address lack of access to medical equipment in the country, stating that the ‘new normal’ requires that we have an adequate supply of vital medical equipment and materials to meet both medical and public consumption needs.

“Recent reports show that there are 1,937 mechanical ventilators for COVID-19 patients, which remains relatively insufficient given the standing 8,361 active cases in hospitals as of 11 May 2020…  The alarming number of COVID-19 cases among health workers [also] highlights the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)… with hospitals estimated to use an average of 200 to 500 PPEs per day,” Cayetano noted.

“These aspects of the country’s health system, if remained unchecked amid the projected trends of this virus, may strain our capacity to effectively control and prevent the spread of the disease and to significantly transition to an imminent new state of normalcy,” the senator said, as she pushed to review existing policies on public health infrastructure and access to vital medical supplies, to ensure the country’s healthcare capacity and self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, Cayetano also filed SRN 404, calling for a hearing by the Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking, which she chairs, on the effects of COVID-19 on the future of our health service delivery.

“With the onset of the New Normal, existing practices and systems in health service delivery, such as physical clinics, face-to-face triage, and paper-based prescriptions, may be ineffective in responding to the need for stricter respiratory hygiene and physical distancing measures,” she stressed.

As such, the senator said different sectors – the academe, private sector, and government – should collaborate to explore possible outcomes, emerging ideas, and innovative opportunities and strategies for a better delivery of health services during the ‘new normal.’

“We should employ futures thinking as an essential strategy in dealing with this issue. It is a method of informed reflections on the possible futures of various aspects of life,” said Cayetano, who is an advocate for Futures Literacy among Filipinos, especially among policymakers. #

Senator Pia S. Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking, presides over the panel’s virtual hearing on the necessary innovations and strategies in adapting to the ‘new normal’ following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Innovations needed to educate students in the new normal

“We must take advantage of this crisis and come up with innovative ways to educate our kids during this time of COVID-19.”

Thus said Senator Pia S. Cayetano as she pushed for the establishment of more “blended learning models” to educate Filipino children during the ‘new normal’, amid the disruption of schools due to the pandemic.

The Chair of the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking, Cayetano welcomed the plan of the Department of Education (DepEd) to use different learning modalities – including in-classroom study and individual study or online classroom work – for the basic education sector.

“Clearly, the  internet will play a vital role in this proposal, as online teaching is a key component of effective blended learning. So the improvement of internet access in schools and the provision of necessary equipment for teachers to conduct online classes is imperative,” she said.

But the senator also noted that the reality is not all Filipino households have access to the internet. Thus, the need to come up with other alternative modes of learning that can be accessible to more students.

“We tend to reject new ideas during ‘normal times.’ But a crisis is a perfect time to explore other options,” she stressed.

“Why don’t we explore and tap government channels – like PTV 4, IBC 13, and RPN 9 in various provinces – to air more educational shows? There is so much content out there that can be used to educate millions of Filipino children all over the country,” she suggested, adding that the channels can allot regular block time for subjects like history, science, geography, music, art, and more, in between broadcasting relevant news programs and official press conferences of the government.

“I would even recommend that English programs should not be dubbed and kept as is, to give our young learners the opportunity to hone their English communication skills while learning at home,” Cayetano further pointed out.

Meanwhile, in the recommendations she sent Malacañang pursuant to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, Cayetano noted: “DepEd should provide an update on their preparation in the integration of blended learning in the curriculum, as it is not as simple as using the internet. It includes time in school, provided it is safe to return to school, and social distancing measures are put into place – such as having a smaller number of students attend a few days a week on a rotational basis for interaction with their teachers.”

The senator further suggests that around 20-30 percent of students per class may be allowed to go to school in areas where it is safe for children to go out. She added that the smaller classroom size will promote better interaction and make learning easier for the children.

Cayetano said DepEd can seek assistance from the University of the Philippines (UP) in further exploring online education as part of  its proposed blended learning systems. UP is mandated to share its knowledge and assist national agencies and educational institutions in developing distance education programs – including online learning management systems – under the Open Distance Learning Act (RA 10650), which the senator sponsored as former chair of the Senate Committee on Education.

“We need a Futures Thinking mindset to educate our children during the ‘new normal.’ Access to quality education is a vital tool in nation-building, and we must use this crisis as an opportunity to innovate and reinvent our education,” Cayetano said, stressing that inclusive and equitable quality education for all is one of the 17 SDGs that the Philippines seeks to achieve by 2030. #

Senator Pia Cayetano and DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones
File photo: Senator Pia S. Cayetano, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, leads a hearing on the basic education budget with Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones (back to camera) on the foreground.