A turbulent week in politics and as dengue and COVID-19 infections climb, it has left us with an officer-in-charge in the Department of Health (DOH) while President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. continues to look for his secretary.
But what grabbed my attention is the medical director of the Philippine Orthopedic Center, Dr. Jose Brittanio S. Pujalte Jr.. Boldly, he urged President Marcos Jr. to establish a Center for Disease Control (CDC) and a Philippine Vaccine Authority (PVA) to prepare the country against disease outbreaks, endemics, and pandemics in the future. It was, in fact, a courageous and practical long-term solution to enable the Philippines to be self-reliant in terms of vaccine development. Pujalte envisions the establishment of a local vaccine development and manufacturing industry to help secure vaccine supply for Filipinos, which was one of the challenges the country faced during the pandemic. I totally agree because this will benefit not only the health sector in managing persistent viral diseases but also the agricultural sector by providing vaccines for animal diseases that impact livestock farms and fisheries for our food security programs.
Pujalte pointed out that the CDC would release advisories and bulletins based solely on science.
“In other words, not based on pressures from the economic managers or businessmen or politicians,” he said. “If the advisories are science-based, based on pathogens, and then what we know about the treatment. Then it will make more sense.” He also pushed for the creation of a PVA to oversee the local production of vaccines, making the Philippines less reliant on imports and donations.
Pujalte is one of the top contenders for the post of DOH secretary. No less than the Philippine Orthopedic Association (POA), the mother organization of all board-certified practicing Orthopedic Surgeons in the Philippines, endorsed Pujalte to be the next secretary. Being POA’s ex-president, he was described as a brilliant leader who shines brightly without burning out. Pujalte understands the incredible pressure we face in our lives and the difficulty in staying connected to professional and personal goals in demanding environments such as the public health sector.
The POA is convinced Pujalte is a big asset in the PBBM administration. “With his vast experience, the POA believes that having Pujalte at the helm of the DOH will ensure continuing improvement in the country’s healthcare system”, said POA President Dr. Frederic Joseph Diyco.
BACKGROUND & CORE VALUES
What do we know about Pujalte and his likely impact on the healthcare sector? Pujalte was a graduate of the University of the Philippines, took his Master in Hospital Administration at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business, and a fellow of the Philippine Orthopedic Association since 1997. He is also a medical columnist of the Manila Bulletin’s “If Symptoms Persist” since 1999.
His dad, Dr. Jose Pujalte Sr. or Doc Pujie to his friends and colleagues also finished medical school at the University of the Philippines in 1953. As one of the first graduates of the orthopedic residency program at the National Orthopedic Hospital (NOH), he became organic in the institution that he grew to love and serve for 33 years, from Chief of Clinics in the late 1970s to Chief of Hospital in 1980. The elder Pujalte was a leader and pioneer in Philippine surgery and medicine. He was President of the Philippine Orthopaedic Association (1972-73), the Philippine College of Surgeons (1981), and the Philippine Medical Association (1985). The core values imbibed to the younger Pujalte by his father are: “Discipline, Courage, Integrity, Hard Work, Compassion, Fairness, Generosity, and Humility.”
STINT AS MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF POC
As medical director of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), Pujalte has steered the institution to newer heights through vast improvements and projects making this the Apex Center for Orthopedics in the country, serving hundreds of Filipinos every single day.
Undaunted. Despite the COVID-19 infection of 117 out of its 180 health personnel in 2020, the POC has continued and will always save lives and serve the public amid the pandemic, Pujalte assured.
“This is what we signed up for. This is what being a doctor and health worker means in the time of pandemic: that we man the front lines and save lives even as we put our own in peril,” he stressed, adding that he himself tested positive, with his “current oxygen saturation hovering in the low 90s and catching his breath.”
Pujalte, however, noted that even well-run hospitals, such as the POC, as well as the most progressive countries, are vulnerable as well from the crippling effects of the COVID-19 crisis. He added it has become clear now that this virus asks “the best of us if we are to defeat it and have it under control.”
The POC has a proud 76-year history of service to the Filipino people and 98 percent of those it serves belong to the marginalized sector. The institution will continue to serve the public as it manages its personnel who are continuously exposed to the pandemic, Pujalte pledged.
Meanwhile, the health department’s personnel are ready to continue its implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) agenda under the Marcos administration.
The next DOH secretary will oversee the health situation in the country which is still facing the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It underscored the importance of primary health care in making preventive measures that could ease the hospital utilization in the country, as well as the emergence of telemedicine that has been beneficial throughout the pandemic. The DOH pointed out that the pandemic highlighted the need for “sound leadership and good governance of provincial governors and city mayors” who are responsible for the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines in their localities.
“There are many more lessons learned from the pandemic response, and moving forward, our transition to the new normal where UHC will help us prepare better for any future public health emergencies,” the DOH said. It was in February 2019 when former President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the UHC Act, which guarantees that all Filipinos will have equal access to quality and affordable goods and services in healthcare.
President Marcos Jr. has yet to name his pick for DOH secretary under his administration.