HOR Complex, Quezon City (DWDD) – The House committee on health has approved a bill which seeks to strengthen the existing legal framework for notifiable diseases.
The committee on health chaired by Rep. Angelina Tan (4th District, Quezon) approved House Bill 3163 that also aims to ensure the establishment and maintenance of efficient and effective disease surveillance and response system by using evidence-based data or research in making reports in the formulation of health policies and health advocacies on notifiable diseases.
The bill seeks to amend Republic Act No. 3573 or “An Act Which Provides for the Prevention and Suppression of Dangerous Communicable Diseases” which was enacted in 1929.
In a hearing presided by the panel’s vice-chairman Rep. Mario Vittorio Mariño (5th District, Batangas), Tan, author of the bill, said much has changed since RA 3573 was enacted. Said law requires all individuals and health facilities to report notifiable diseases to national and local health authorities.
“We are now living in a rapidly changing world of information and technology where notification, by the fastest means possible, is required for the epidemic-prone diseases that newly appear in the population or have existed but are rapidly increasing in incidence,” Tan said.
Tan said her bill allows for the collection of information that shows how often the disease occurs, which significantly aid public health authorities identify disease trends and track disease outbreaks and protect public health.
“Particularly, it mandates every physician, director, superintendent or persons in charge of hospitals, institutions, among others, upon which occur any case of reportable or communicable disease to immediately notify the nearest health station either by telephone, by messenger, or by written notice specifying the disease and the name of the person afflicted,” she explained.
“Notifiable disease” as defined under the measure refers to a disease that, by legal requirements, must be reported to the public health authority when the diagnosis is made.
Among the objectives of the bill are: continuously develop and upgrade the list of nationally notifiable diseases, health-related events and conditions with their corresponding case definitions; enforce mandatory reporting to public health authorities on diseases, bio-terrorism, other health-related events and conditions designated by the State as reportable; ensure the establishment and maintenance of efficient and effective disease surveillance responsive system at the national and local levels; and provide sufficient funding to support the communications technology and infrastructure needed to efficiently collect, analyze and disseminate the disease surveillance information and allow for transmission at all levels.
Likewise, it aims to require public and private laboratories to actively participate in disease surveillance through the following: assurance of the availability of appropriate laboratory tests and reagents and on-going technological and training support for new and classic methods of notifiable disease detection and identification of other health-related events and conditions; and the establishment of linkages with clinical, veterinary, agricultural, and academic laboratories to share expertise, services and identify laboratory surge capacity for any public health emergency.
The bill also intends to provide accurately and timely health information about notifiable diseases, health-related events and conditions to private citizens and health providers as an integral part of response to public health emergencies and to establish effective mechanisms for strong collaboration with national and local government health agencies to ensure proper procedures are in place to promptly respond to notifiable disease reports, including case investigations, treatment, and control and containment, including follow-up activities, among others.
It assigns the Epidemiology Bureau under the Department of Health (DOH) to prepare and update the list of notifiable diseases, syndromes, and other health-related events and conditions.
The bureau shall have a nationwide scope of function and shall advocate for evidence-based decision-making, public health surveillance, early response and outbreak management, epidemiological research and risk assessment at all levels of health system. It shall strengthen the epidemiology programs of the country and maintain the human resources devoted to the field.
Moreover, the bureau shall take the lead in the investigation of epidemics of national and international importance, in coordination with the Centers for Health Development (CHDs), national agencies, local government units, and other concerned agencies.
On the other hand, the proposal recognizes the Philippine Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (PIDSR) System as the official system of the DOH in terms of disease surveillance, and as such, shall be the official information system for mandatory notification of items provided in Section 5 of this Act.
It provides that all diseases, syndromes, and health-related events and conditions under the PIDSR, including other diseases identified by the DOH as notifiable shall be reported to national and local public health authorities, physicians, health workers, and the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) following the system flow of the respective surveillance system.
As for all suspected epidemics or public health emergency, including unofficial reports, these shall be assessed by the DOH in coordination with the national agencies, local government units (LGUs), and other parties directly or indirectly involved in the investigation and control of public health threats.
Meanwhile, all health officers in provinces, cities and municipalities, disease surveillance officers, physicians health workers, and the PMA shall promptly verify reports of epidemics received from health facilities, both government and private, in all levels of governance, or through community rumors and shall immediately notify the DOH.
The Secretary of Health shall have the sole authority to declare epidemics of national and/or international concerns except when the same threatens national security. In which case, the President of the Republic of the Philippines shall declare a State of Public Health Emergency and mobilize governmental and non-governmental agencies to respond to the threat.
Furthermore, it shall be the responsibility of the DOH, in coordination with the LGUs, to ensure the establishment of Epidemiology and Surveillance Units (ESUs) in all provinces, cities and municipalities throughout the country, which shall provide effective linkages between the Epidemiology Bureau and the LGUs in the provision of timely, accurate, and reliable epidemiologic information from the field and facilitate capacity building in the field of epidemiology.
Among the prohibited acts under the Act are: breach of privacy and confidentiality; non-performance of the operations of the PIDSR; and non-cooperation of persons or entities that should report these events to the appropriate public health authority.
Penalties for the said violations are fines amounting to P20,000 to P50,000 or imprisonment of one month to six months, or both fines and imprisonment, at the discretion of the proper court.
The DOH, the Philippine Hospital Association (PHA) and the Private Hospital Association of the Philippines (PHAP) expressed their support for the approval of the bill. CONGRESS / MCAG