By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Amid the spike and outbreak of diseases in the country, Senator Francis “Tol” Tolentino has proposed the creation of an Office of Surgeon General to handle public health communication and information dissemination.
Tolentino, in his Senate Bill No. 1288 filed on Wednesday, said the Surgeon General shall serve as the “national spokesperson” on all matters relating to public health, particularly on dangerous diseases, infections and other hazardous conditions that threaten the public.
The senator said the influx of diseases in the Philippines — from last year’s dengue and measles outbreak and the resurgence of the polio disease, to the recent threat of the novel coronavirus from Wuhan, China — stresses the need for a “proactive governmental body which focuses on reliable communication system for disease prevention and control.”
He cited “lacking” efforts from the Department of Health (DOH) on aggressively informing the public on disease prevention and control, despite “hefty” budgets for advertising.
The DOH’s advertising budget in 2018 was P335 million, and P536 million in 2019, he noted.
“It is not only the government’s foremost duty to create a policy framework to safeguard its citizens from disease, but also to provide vital and timely information necessary for health awareness,” Tolentino said.
Tolentino said the proposed office will be similar to the United States’ Office of the Surgeon General. On the other hand, it will be separate from the Office of the Surgeon General in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), whose functions are limited within the military, he pointed out.
Under SB 1288, the Office of the Surgeon General would be an attached agency of the DOH, and would be mandated to regularly publish health bulletins and reports on critical health issues and on the health and fitness of the general public.
Information on health hazards in times of emergencies, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and any other exigency shall be coursed through the Surgeon General, the bill read.
Aside from communications, the proposed office shall also conduct studies, or cooperate and assist other agencies in conducting research on diseases. The Surgeon General would also have the authority to call on the medical services team of the AFP to help in the performance of his or her duty.
A public health network shall likewise be led by the Surgeon General, with the DOH’s other attached agencies, such as the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, as well as health practitioners in the private sector, the medical academe and other government agencies.
The said public health network will serve as a forum to discuss critical public health issues, share relevant health information and to monitor and regulate public health concerns.
The bill stated that the Surgeon General must be licensed physician and commissioned officer of the AFP. The President would appoint the Surgeon General, who shall serve a term of three years.