Medical populism

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The Philippines was ranked a pathetic 66th out of 91 countries in terms of suppressing the coronavirus disease as of August by medical journal The Lancet.

The Lancet COVID-19 Commission report published on September 14 based the ranking on the number of new cases per million population per day, averaged over the 31 days of August, of countries with “sufficient” data. It explained that the newly confirmed infections are “the most straightforward measure of the rate of transmission of the virus.”

The report considered a country as able to curb the spread of the virus in August if it only had five or fewer cases per million population a day, provided that it conducted “at least 20 tests per new case,” which is considered “ample” testing.

According to that standard, 19 countries suppressed COVID-19 last month. These include Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Malaysia, New Zealand, Uganda, Togo, Pakistan, Latvia and Luxembourg.

“Low” COVID-19 transmission is for countries with 10 or fewer new cases per million population per day. The Philippines falls under the “moderate transmission” category of countries that report 30 to 50 new cases per million per day, clocking 37.5 new infections per million a day for August.

Failure to implement non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as face mask use, testing, contact tracing, which proved successful in other countries, as well as high inequality, and the so-called medical populism, are some of the reasons why some countries failed to control COVID-19, the Commission noted.

Medical populism is defined as “simplifying the pandemic by downplaying its impacts or touting easy solutions or treatments, spectacularizing their responses to crisis, forging divisions between the ‘people’ and dangerous ‘others’, and making medical knowledge claims to support the above.”

The Commission noted this political style, observed in US President Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and our President Rodrigo Duterte, impedes the implementation of safety measures, and “breeds misinformation and rumor trafficking.”

The Lancet called on governments to prioritize advice from the public health community which work with international agencies and learn from the best practices of other nations.

This latest proof of the quality of our government’s response to the crisis is especially disappointing upon noting that majority of the top ten ranked countries are in Southeast Asia, proving that an effective COVID-19 response is possible in this region, by countries with more or less comparable resources than ours who leaned on science and practical solutions rather than medical populism.

Will our government respond with action and a shift in strategy or will we get another round of the same old excuses that we’ve been hearing for the past six months?*


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October 2020