The 2019 novel coronavirus or COVID 19 is indeed a significant threat to global public health, prompting the World Health Organization to officially label the situation as a pandemic for continuously reaching an exponential geographical spread.
Swift, decisive and effective government action is necessary and crucial. While the government health emergency response may limit the enjoyment of certain rights like the freedom of movement to prevent the spread of disease, it should not compromise the fulfillment of other rights, foremost of which is the peoples’ rights to decent jobs, food, shelter, and the enjoyment of a life in dignity.
While placing the whole of Luzon including the National Capital Region (NCR) and other areas of the Visayas and Mindanao under “enhanced community quarantine” from 15 March 2020 to 14 April 2020 is considered the most appropriate way of stopping the transmission of the virus by imposing “home quarantine” and “social distancing” measures, however public safety and order is simply not enough as it now results to deterioration and/or worsening of peoples’ capacities to meet their basic daily survival needs and that of their families.
While we are cognizant of the urgency to limit the movements of people as an infectious disease control measure and recognize the efforts of the government with the Department of Health taking the lead role in protecting public health, this should be implemented in accordance with human rights norms, principles and standards especially in times of emergencies. The government should strike a balance between ensuring infectious disease control and conforming with its international human rights obligations.
More than ever a rights-respecting approach to this public health emergency is most advisable.
We, the Medical Action Group, a health and human rights organization advocating the right to health for all, call upon the Philippine government to:
1. Continuously provide accurate, timely and transparent information on the public health situation with periodic updates through reliable media. Educating not just disciplining the public is the key to prevention;
2. provide opportunities for civil society and the public to participate and be mobilized in order to augment the capacity for emergency preparedness, rapid response, risk reduction, referral network, and information dissemination;
3. make sure that social protection measures are in places such as food provision, financial support, and continuity of basic public services like water, electricity, and communication to appease the public. While infectious disease control is an immediate concern, programmatic and holistic measures are important to reduce the effects of the public health crisis;
4. give attention to the mental health issues of the people and the affected communities arising from the psychosocial consequences of the current public health crisis; and
5. ensure the protection and safety of health professionals and other emergency responders from occupational risks. We should recognize that front liners are putting their lives at risk to keep the public safe.
This global health crisis has a multidimensional impact on the lives and well-being of peoples and communities, especially the poor and vulnerable. Let us confront it in a holistic, comprehensive manner anchored on and guided by, human rights norms, principles, and standards.
While drastic times call for drastic measures, it entails shared responsibilities to ensure that our actions contribute to putting an end to this public health crisis and not to cause further harm.
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