MANILA, Philippines — A health economics unit within the proposed Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) should be considered so the government has its own analytics arm informing the public about health trends and other relevant information, a lawmaker said on Thursday.
According to Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, the Department of Health (DOH) currently has a weak capacity to do health-economic analyses like formulating possible trends and curves on the COVID-19 pandemic — forcing the government and the public to rely on private institutions like Octa Research.
“Currently, I think that the DOH has quite weak in-house capacity to do health-economic analysis,” Quimbo said during the hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on health on bills proposing the country’s own CDC.
“So things, for example like tracing out the COVID curve and making predictions or trying to forecast for example, COVID cases in the future, what happens now is that we give that responsibility to private entities like OCTA Research,” she added in a mix of English and Filipino.
Quimbo said that she supports the bill and is happy that Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Beverly Ho noted during the hearing that CDC would need a Center for Health Statistics.
However, the lawmaker believes there is a need for a unit that manages data and releases it as information that the public can understand, similar to the United States (US) CDC’s health economics unit.
“So we have no in-house capacity. So I believe we need to address this problem, so I was happy that earlier, Dr. Bev Ho mentioned the need for a Center for Health Statistics,” Quimbo said.
“But I think, Doc, Mr. Chair, it has to be more than a unit that collects data, or manages data, or assembles data or for example undertakes surveys. This center has to be some kind of a health economic unit, which means it has to have the capacity to do health-economic analyses,” she added.
Ho said they support the suggestion but noted that they initially thought the Center for Health Statistics would be enough to address Quimbo’s recommendations.
“We’re very much supportive of this initiative, I think it’s long overdue already, we’ve discussed about the health financing unit also (a) long time ago in the DOH but it’s never been fulfilled, so we do hope that this would be taken into consideration here,” Ho said.
“When we looked at the CDC structures we had thought that modeling capacity would be present already in the Center for Health Statistics but we pose no objection if it would really be a separate unit,” she added.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Philippines, there were suggestions from lawmakers to create a CDC, which could have been crucial to controlling the health crisis and informing the public about certain trends.
These, however, were not acted upon by the past administration.
READ: House panel bombards OCTA with questions on surveys, expertise, funding
During the pandemic, the DOH provided datasets for the public to analyze, but forecasts were released by Octa Research, an analytics group composed of researchers from the academe, like the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas.
In August 2021, five House lawmakers from the 18th Congress — including Quimbo herself — asked for a probe on the qualifications, capabilities, and background of Octa Research amid the public’s supposed reliance on the analytics group for COVID-19 trends.
The resolution was hinged on warnings that projections from Octa Research on the spread of COVID-19 in the country are “problematic” because they used data not updated by the DOH
READ: 5 solons want OCTA Research capabilities, background probed
Some lawmakers back then asked Octa to stop releasing their COVID-19 outlook as it is bad for the economy, saying that grim outlooks appear to be some fear-mongering.
However, OCTA highlighted that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they could accurately predict all three COVID-19 surges, prompting the government to work with them.
Lawmaker wants OCTA Research stopped from releasing COVID-19 outlook
Inaccurate data? OCTA Research says all 3 COVID-19 surge predictions happened
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