Public-private partnership against COVID-19
Over the last 25 months, a public-private partnership has quietly been working behind the scenes with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in the battle against COVID-19. Known as Task Force T3 (for Test, Trace, Treat), our work covered a wide range of responses for COVID management and involved many companies and volunteer executive teams working hand in hand with government officials and staff from the IATF, partner agencies, and local governments.
From our perspective, this public-private partnership has been a successful model for managing national crisis. Though it’s been a roller coaster of a ride over these last two years, we’ve been able to see COVID case rates drop significantly, low mortality rates, and hospital utilization rates decline.
I’d like to briefly outline this journey and try to draw some lessons from this partnership.
In April 2020, the government invited the private sector into a partnership to expand RT-PCR testing capacity and the inventory of personal protective equipment (PPEs). At that time, we could only run 4,500 PCR tests per day and carried a one-month supply of PPEs. A small group composed of AC Health, PDRF, MPIC Hospitals, Zuellig, Unilab, Thinkwell, and McKinsey met with Chief Implementor-Secretary Carlito Galvez, Deputy Chief Implementor-Secretary Vince Dizon, and officials from the Department of Health to discuss a work program. Thus was born Task Force T3, a term coined by Secretary Galvez for Test, Trace, and Treat.
When we launched Task Force T3, none of us knew exactly how this would play out or for how long. Working daily and with a growing private sector support base, we expanded PCR testing capacity from 4,500 tests per day to 34,000 tests per day in five weeks to end-May. We eventually expanded capacity to 100,000 tests per day. We were also able to expand PPE inventory to a steady three-month supply to help ensure the safety of our health care workers.
As we managed these two initial challenges, we learned more about COVID-19 and discovered new challenges. This led to new work in data analytics, serosurveillance, contact tracing, pooled testing, One Hospital Command, health care worker recruitment, and communications. We also created a new working group composed of AC Health, PDRF, Unilab, Zuellig, MPIC Hospitals, Jollibee, McDonald’s, ADB consultants, and BCG to work closely with Secretary Galvez, Secretary Dizon, and Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje on the National Vaccine Deployment Program.
Mass vaccinations started on March 1, 2021. At that time, we thought that we might not have enough vaccines to vaccinate our population. True enough, procurement and delivery got off to a slow start but thanks to the efforts of Secretary Galvez, we eventually procured or received donations of enough vaccines to cover the entire population. That large supply of vaccines saved lives. As of this week, 148.3 million doses have been administered and 76.3 percent of our target population have received their primary series of two shots.
What lessons can we draw from this experience? From our perspective, several factors stand out.
Speed and Scale. This partnership combined Speed with Scale. While the private sector cannot provide all of the resources needed to meet a national emergency, it can move with speed as it is relatively unencumbered by bureaucracy. That speed buys time, which allows the government to move through with its processes to bring the right scale of resources into play. This is not always easy and it can get frustrating balancing the pace to everyone’s satisfaction.
Task force vs. bureaucracy. Our organization of work teams to focus on specific projects kept bureaucracy to a minimum. Hierarchy of position was never an issue; participants were invited into work groups based on what they could contribute. Meetings were scheduled around targets; we were able to keep task forces focused on work and to maintain speed, agility, and flexibility.
Data is king. The work—and hence decision-making—was data-driven. This was not always the case. Because we weren’t testing enough, we could not quickly determine how fast or where the virus was spreading. Eventually, better data collection, analytics, and dashboards helped guide decision-making and target-setting. Data was digested and discussed on a daily basis.
Multidisciplinary. Our work brought together a multidisciplinary team well beyond the fields of health care and pharmaceuticals (though we had experts from those fields). We also had experts in supply chain management, communications, advertising, and public opinion research, management consultants, and data analytics working on various projects. That interdisciplinary approach brought different perspectives to the table and widened the scope for discussion and solutions. Moreover, our use of international data from our management consultants also allowed us to tap into global best practice.
Openness, chemistry, and leadership. Finally, openness and chemistry among all actors involved kept the partnership working smoothly. Open communication and chemistry among the partners ensured that the best ideas were always brought out into the open and discussed, although not all were necessarily agreed upon. Ultimately, leadership mattered; Secretary Charlie Galvez and Secretary Vince Dizon were exemplary (worth another column in itself).
Our experience in T3 showed that a public-private partnership can work to address a national crisis. We think it’s a model that can be used to address other challenges we face in our society.
Guillermo M. Luz is the chief resilience officer of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (pdrf.org) and one of the convenors of Task Force T3.
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