Villanueva on rise of respiratory illnesses: Are we ready?

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Amid the reported global rise in respiratory illnesses, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva has filed a resolution seeking an inquiry on the Philippines’ preparedness to handle such infections.

Senate Resolution No. 874 highlights the need to discuss the systems in place to detect, prevent, minimize, treat and contain the reported surge in the illness, and the capacity of the healthcare system to handle an outbreak of cases.

“Handa po ba tayo sa respiratory illnesses na ito?  Wala po bang dapat ikabahala ang ating mga kababayan?” Villanueva said.

“We have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic shocked the world, and its impact was staggering. We don’t want a repeat of the COVID experience,” he added.

The increase in the incidence of respiratory illnesses was reported in China in November 2023, which was seen as an effect of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. 

The United States is also seeing an uptick in sick visits in some hospitals.  Meanwhile, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control also noted that rates of respiratory illness, influenza-like illnesses and/or acute respiratory infection were increasing in many European Union and European Economic Area countries.

In the Philippines, the Philippine General Hospital in Manila noted an increase in cases of pneumonia in the hospital.

The Department of Health (DOH) said it has also observed an increase in influenza-like illnesses (ILI) entering the last trimester of the year.

According to the Health department, the recorded cases of ILI from January to October 2023 were 45 percent higher compared to the cases in the same period in 2022.

“The emergence of new flu strains or other viruses capable of triggering pandemics typically starts with undiagnosed clusters of respiratory illness. In fact, both SARS and COVID-19 were first reported as unusual types of pneumonia,” Villanueva’s resolution said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made significant disruptions in health service delivery particularly in resource-limited countries. The disruptions were due not only to the direct effects of the COVID-19 pandemic but also on the pressure it put on our healthcare systems,” it added.

The Majority Leader said that during the surge in cases, the Philippine College of Emergency Medicine showed that emergency department operations were at 110-150 percent rate.

In contrast, DOH estimates that facilities operating at 85% of their capacity are already considered under critical level of operation.

“The strain at the height of the pandemic was not only on our hospitals, but also on our healthcare workers who have to endure the longer work hours and limited resources to attend to the sick,” Villanueva said.

In his resolution, Villanueva called on the DOH and concerned authorities “to enforce minimum public health standards and safety protocols to stem the rising number of cases and arrest any possibility of an outbreak.”

“There is also a need to ensure that there are adequate supplies of medicines and personal protective equipment,” he said.

“These should come with intensified health information, education, and communication programs on the prevention of communicable respiratory diseases, including vaccination drives against influenza, COVID-19, pneumonia and other vaccine-preventable respiratory diseases,” Villanueva added.

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