By Daniel Llanto
FilAm Star Correspondent

Two separate US agencies found the Philippines unqualified to receive grants set aside for developing countries from the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) while the first so-called Global Health Security index placed the Philippines at the tail-end of countries listed as unprepared for epidemics or pandemics.

The US aid agency MCC said the Philippines failed in 8 of 20 criteria to avail of its assistance, including issues on corruption and rule of law.

The Philippines’ score card for 2020 showed that it passed in at least 12 criteria — fiscal policy, inflation, regulatory quality, trade policy, gender in the economy, land rights and access, political rights, civil liberties and government effectiveness and natural resource protection, girls’ education and child health.

But the country showed red, or failing marks, in eight criteria — access to credit, business start-ups, control of corruption, rule of law, freedom of information, health spending, primary education and immunization.

Health spending and immunization are precisely two of the shortcomings attributed to the Philippines by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Nuclear Threat Initiative which said the Philippines scored zero in five health security indicators.

The EIU report was released amid reports on the resurgence of polio and other infectious diseases even as government struggles to contain the spread of African Swine Fever.

EIU noted that these failing grades come although “health security” was placed second in the government’s 12-point agenda in the country’s national security policy for 2017 through 2022. This document says the government shall endeavor to prevent “the effects of infectious diseases as well as interdicting illegal and hazardous agents.”

Groups are calling the healthcare situation in the country a crisis of its own amid the under-funding of the Department of Health for 2020 on top of the outbreaks of infectious diseases like polio and African swine fever, and the public’s growing distrust in vaccines to reckon with.

This all comes as the Department of Health braces to roll out Universal Health Care in 2020.

The Philippine is also hosting an international conference on Global Terrorism and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear explosives and its participation in a similar conference on bio-terrorism under the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Although not explicitly mentioned in the study, the mention of public health and security authorities in the same breath for many brings to mind the on-going war on drugs, which has often been called a public health catastrophe.

Coalition for People’s Right to Health co-convenor Josh San Pedro said in an on-line interview that the state of healthcare and the on-going outbreaks only reveal the poor state of communications among healthcare workers.

San Pedro pointed to “political devolution, geographic factors, underdeveloped tele-health systems” as some of the symptoms of the larger problem of “a fragmented health system,” calling the programs addressing African swine flu “disjointed.”

“The reality is that access to healthcare in the country is still far from ideal,” San Pedro said. “Only 43 percent of barangays have a functional health center and the ratios of health workers to the population is overwhelming.”

WHO recommends a ratio of at least 45 health workers per 10,000 persons. In the Philippines, the ratio stands at only 19 for every 10,000.

The Economist Intelligence Unit claims that “there is no public evidence that the Philippines has conducted an assessment to determine whether on-going research is occurring on especially dangerous pathogens and toxins.”

San Pedro pointed out that the focus of the study was more in line with first-world standards of health security and was geared towards pandemics and bio-terror, something that was not as applicable in the Philippines as in more developed countries.