By Jerome Carlo Paunan
MANILA, — In his 6th and last State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Monday cited the gains in the health systems achieved by the Philippines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the early stages of the pandemic, our testing capacity was very limited. Recognizing the importance of conducting more tests to ensure early detection and timely isolation of confirmed COVID-19 cases, we ramped up our testing capacity. We now have more than 260 accredited laboratories nationwide which are capable of conducting at least 50,000 tests daily. All regions also now can conduct their own COVID-19 tests,” the President said.
Duterte said the government also established over 9,000 temporary treatment and monitoring facilities across the country, with a total bed capacity of more than 140,000 to care for mild and asymptomatic cases.
The President mentioned the passage of the Universal Health Care Act (UHC) in 2019, and the Malasakit Centers Act in in the same year to supplement the UHC Law.
A total of 130 Malasakit Centers have been established across the country, so far.
A Malasakit Center houses under one roof the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
“Poor Filipinos in hospitals look for other sources for their medical needs. What we did, if they need medicine, just get it there from the hospital and to me that is one of the most poignant acts of Congress and the Executive Department,” he said.
Despite earlier drawbacks, the President expressed optimism that the country would be able to further boost its COVID-19 vaccination rate as more vaccines will arrive in the coming weeks.
“Currently, we have received over 30 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines. We expect [to receive at least] 36 million vaccines this month and in August. We have inoculated more than  million Filipinos, [around 11 million] of which have received their first dose,” he said.
He encouraged the public anew to get vaccinated against Covid-19, saying it is the only way to put a stop to the pandemic once and for all.
“We cannot continue living in the shadow of this potent enemy, especially now that science and medicine has proven that it is possible to live with — if not entirely defeat — this virus. The health and safety protocols we put in place have proven effective in slowing the spread of the virus. But the best solution is still vaccination,” he said.
Duterte appealed to those who have received their first COVID-19 jab to complete their second dose as well.
He also sought patience from groups that have yet to receive the vaccine, saying they would soon have their turn and reminded them to continue observing minimum public health standards.
“It is high time that clear, precise, and uniform protocols and guidelines are issued in anticipation of the vaccination of more Filipinos and the steady reopening of our society,” he said.
Meanwhile, Duterte acknowledged that “countless lessons” were learned and continuous improvements put in place amid the prevailing health crisis.
He, however, recognized the country’s “tireless” healthcare and frontline workers who risked their safety to keep essential health services and supply chain running.
He then expressed gratitude to the country’s health experts who provided patients with the best care round the clock and participated in the search for safe and effective COVID-19 medicines.
He, meanwhile, urged Congress to pass laws creating a virology institute and center for disease control in the country, confident that Filipinos could achieve vaccine self-reliance in the future.
“However poor we are, I think Filipinos, given proper support, I am sure that the Filipino brain can also process or make vaccines in the future,” he said. Philippine Information Agency