Good practice: DOH in national disaster planning
In light of our current pandemic response, and taking stock of the Philippines’ experience and milestones in setting up our system for managing the consequences of emergencies and disasters that result from various hazards—e.g., natural, human-induced, technological and biological, including emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and pandemics—it is worth highlighting one good practice that can be a game-changer not only with respect to our COVID-19 response, but also in our initiatives to advance multisectoral and whole-of-society approaches to health security preparedness.
This is the Department of Health (DOH) engagement with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). As provided for in our national disaster law, Republic Act No. 10121, the DOH is a vital member of the NDRRMC which is the main machinery of the country in conducting DRRM. It acts as the lead in health-related (public health and medical, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, and mental health) clusters, and also supports other clusters in a cross-cutting fashion. This is implemented from the national to regional and local levels.
The DOH and NDRRMC synergy is a well-established and tried-and-tested mechanism for delivering health and DRRM mandates in the country. The maximal benefits of this relationship are being achieved through the following:
Enhanced governance, leadership, and coordination. The NDRRMC provides the DOH a mechanism for interagency, multisectoral, and multilevel coordination so the latter can deliver on the health services expected from its leadership. The whole-of-society approach happens when DOH at the national level can enable local government units and empower communities and people to also help out in the process. This is possible because the DOH, NDRRMC, and member agencies are linked through the Incident Command System (ICS) and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
All-hazards risk management. As health plays a vital role in the four phases of the disaster cycle from prevention, preparedness, and response to recovery and rehabilitation, as set forth in our National DRRM plan, the DOH is always called upon to do the health aspect of DRRM. Likewise, the multihazard DRRM plan already includes emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, so the DOH can tap partner agencies in its initiatives. This setup also facilitates important processes such as joint risk assessments, planning, simulations, trainings, and responses. An all-hazards approach ensures science-based responses, harmonious efforts, and efficient use of resources.
Application to COVID-19 response. The health sector is poised to respond better to the challenges of the pandemic and concurrent emergencies such as typhoons, floods, volcanic eruptions, fire, earthquakes because of the cluster approach embedded in the DRRM plan. This allows it to do pandemic interventions combined with public health and social measures through camp coordination and management and other response cluster actions, ensuring that important relief efforts are undertaken and adherence to public health standards is observed. Also, utilizing the NDRRMC, the health system can ensure its functionality because it has access to critical lifelines such as water, power, telecommunications, and logistics if and when these are needed.
To sum up, these important health and DRRM mechanisms can be attributed to the connectedness of the DOH with the NDRRMC. It should be emphasized that investments for all-hazards emergency management must be secured. And, especially because of COVID-19, we should make certain that this will also benefit disease outbreaks and other health threats on the horizon.
Moving forward, sustaining capacities for health emergency preparedness and response should always be a top priority to guarantee health system and societal resilience in the era of COVID-19 and beyond. Building better together during and after this pandemic can start from good practices like this one.
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Ronald Law is a physician and public health practitioner specializing in health emergency and disaster risk management. A professor of public health and a Fulbright US-Asean scholar, he studied the topic of health security in the United States just before the onset of COVID-19.
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