Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities and intricacies in the country’s governance and health care system. Our battle against the novel coronavirus has become more challenging because of systemic and perennial problems such as the neglected health care facilities and workforce, a dependent labor force, and lack of financial resources.
But every crisis has its silver lining. Amid the challenges under an enhanced community quarantine due to the health crisis, we have witnessed the true spirit of “bayanihan.” The enhanced and effective public-private cooperation in the Philippines is proving to be a formidable weapon in fighting this pandemic. The private sector has been instrumental in putting up more quarantine facilities in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, which has helped reduce community spread of the disease and decongest hospitals in Metro Manila.
In the past month, we have seen collective efforts from the public and private sectors to expand testing capacity despite limitations. As the World Health Organization has said, the backbone of the global response against COVID-19 is the escalation of testing, isolation, and contact tracing. Physical distancing measures and hand-washing alone will not extinguish the epidemic.
Our officials have recognized the importance of stepping up the country’s testing and laboratory capacity to ensure that we locate, isolate, and treat COVID-19 carriers in order to protect our communities. At the end of April, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases, the National Task Force Against COVID-19, and the Department of Health (DOH), with the support of the Asian Development Bank, convened the Task Force T3 (for Test, Trace and Treat). This public-private task force seeks to support the government’s efforts to expand the RT-PCR testing for COVID-19 from the current level of approximately 4,500 per day to at least 30,000 tests per day by May 30.
Per the DOH, the government has invited hospital, clinic, and pharmaceutical groups like Unilab, Ayala Group’s AC Health, Metro Pacific (MPIC) Hospital Group, as well as the Philippine National Red Cross and Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, to be the initial private sector members of Task Force T3.
Statistics show that as of May 6, only 0.12 percent of the population, or a total of 130,000 residents, has been tested. As of last week, our testing capacity has increased to 7,000 a day, with 23 laboratories. Task Force T3 is working to ramp up that capacity to test at least 1 percent of the population, or 1 million, in the next few months.
South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Germany have been successful in mobilizing the support of their private sector to increase testing capacity and add extra hospital beds, ventilators, and other medical equipment. In Taiwan and South Korea, public-private cooperation was evident in the increase in manufacturing volume of health products, providing widespread consumer access to and optimizing distribution of such essentials. South Korea and Taiwan made large purchase of face masks from local manufacturers, and partnered with private pharmacies and large private convenience store chains. Korean private companies have also worked with the health ministry and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop real-time dashboards and mobile apps to further increase public awareness. In Germany, private laboratories have facilitated the testing of more than 50,000 people a day since the outbreak. The high level of testing has helped Germany reduce the spread of the virus and keep fatalities low.
Creative partnerships with the private sector have enabled various governments to scale up responses commensurate with their needs.
As we enter the “new normal,” we need to sustain government-business coordination to win the war against COVID-19. The challenge, therefore, is to strengthen the policy framework and conduciveness of the environment to expand and deepen dynamic public-private sector collaboration. By working together and enabling the private sector to flex its potential, we can heal faster.
This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.