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Doctor wars

Dean Dela Paz



As uncomfortable as we are at being judged unfairly, that the Philippines remains the worst regional hotspot is a matter of record by both the World Health Organization and other external organizations that compare us, rightly or wrongly, with other countries battling COVID-19.

The comparisons are however debatable as most benchmarks might be inapplicable or inadequate in capturing many of the minute complexities where the virus is itself generally an unknown variable. Understandably, there are reasons to debunk comparative benchmarks as cultural factors including immeasurable and non-comparative standards are applied.

Unfortunately, such inapplicability is worsened by the increasing crash of credibility among the medical community upon whom we entrusted the pandemic responses.

For one, the Philippine medical community cannot seem to agree with itself. We saw this in the two years prior to 2020. The deadly Dengvaxia scandal had split the community along several widening fissures and fault lines. From those conflicted and guilty for politicizing the vaccine’s program, to those seeking justice for the dead children, and even those who simply sought the truth.

In this pandemic, chasm-wide fault lines are getting in the way of credible and timely responses. Diagnose the symptoms of an increasing lack of unity within the medical community. Public trust and confidence are quickly waning as division, infighting and intrigue cancel each other out.

Note, the Health undersecretary has more credibility than her principal. Former secretaries have taken to denying involvement with anonymous physician groups.

One faction raised their fists against the authorities where they were negotiating for a two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Without demanding for an ECQ, a larger group that included frontline nurses sought a more intelligent, non-military, health care-focused approach, including quantified allocations to appropriately compensate health workers.

Among the divisive skirmishes was the debate on the dangers of rapid anti-body tests peddled by some against a greater many who exposed its dangers in catalyzing the infection rate.

Poisoned by political partisanship and entrepreneurial posting and peddling in social media, these wars among the community are fought very publicly and very visibly, as factions now go for each other’s jugular on the issue of continued lockdowns advocated by one group against another that pushes for specific medication and a complete opening of the economy. How polarizing is that?

Yet, both are evidence based.

The medical battlefield is aggravated by a lengthening string of reversals coming from supposed experts and scientists who openly argue issues like the toggling of on-again, off-again impositions of quarantine permutations and combinations.

Worse, the infighting has its own comorbidities. People have noticed drastic and self-destructive power play within the Inter-Agency Task Force populated with a forced mix of political appointees and career doctors and scientists. As infections rose, it is unfortunate that guidance has been increasingly dictated by political appointees rather than by scientists as police powers are increasingly employed against a health issue.

While continuously testing various and even divergent hypotheses is integral to the scientific process, warring doctors face the danger of killing their patients as they play the game of one-upmanship.