Health, Gung-ho style

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“I love rhythm.” (PDI File Photo/Niño Jesus Orbeta)

While others pontificate and drone on about solutions to society’s ills, this government official would rather dance to get the public to march to the beat of his latest health campaign.

From the slums of Tondo to the mountains of Ifugao, and even in Bali, Indonesia, Health Assistant Secretary Enrique “Eric” Tayag has tirelessly put on his dancing shoes to promote his latest cause.

Just last month, Tayag matched dancing skills and sunglasses with South Korean pop figure Psy when he pranced to the hit tune “Oppa Gangnam Style” to publicize the Dept. of Health’s (DOH) campaign against firecrackers during the New Year revelry.

“(Dancing) is my form of exercise,” Tayag once said when asked about his penchant for dancing.

“I love rhythm,” he added. “I regularly attend gym classes that teach exercise through dance.  Using dance for (DOH) campaigns was accidental (although) dance is universally engaging across cultures and generations.”

But don’t let the guy’s fancy dance moves fool you. This BS Biology major from UP who specialized in infectious diseases and epidemiology in his medical studies, heads the Department of Health-National Epidemiology Center.

Having worked at the San Lazaro Hospital for 10 years before joining the DOH, he has become a competent and hardworking expert in handling such medical crisis as dengue and HIV-AIDS.

“Crazy is good. I have a natural feel for what ticks,” Tayag said of his think-out-of-the-box approach to problems.

“I imagine a lot and love generating options regardless of whether they are rational or not,” the Health official added.  “I get ideas from books, from people and from almost anything.  I take certain levels of risks and worry about results later,” he added.

“Problem solving is also second nature to me,” Tayag explained. “I thrive in crisis and find order in chaos.”

Tayag said he had always wanted to be a doctor even when he was a kid but never dreamt he’d end up in a public post.

“Working in government was a bonus,” he said.  “I do not need a reason to inspire me,” he added.  “Even a simple smile from a stranger who had recognized me is coffee to my senses though I am not a regular coffee drinker.”

Unlike some public officials, Tayag goes beyond spouting government data and gets on his feet-literally-to present himself as an Everyman attuned to current pop trends and fads.

“We’re doing this for the children,” Tayag said last month at the launch of the DOH’s Aksyon Paputok Injury Reduction (APIR) anti-firecracker campaign.

Since most victims of firecracker injuries and stray bullets during the holidays are young children, he thought they could easily be cajoled into dancing instead of lighting up.  Filipinos after all love to dance.

Back in December 2011, Tayag caught the public’s attention when he danced to Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” to campaign against firecrackers.

He had previously heated up the Quezon City government’s anti-dengue campaign when he performed Shakira’s “Waka-waka,” a popular song-and-dance number.

In June, Tayag led a group of men and women in a flash mob in Makati City to promote exercise as a main component to healthy living as it helps combat killer non-communicable diseases such as strokes, cancer and heart attacks.

A month later, in July, he was at it again—this time dancing to One Direction’s hit single “What Makes You Beautiful” when he attended an event on HIV-AIDS prevention.

Was his “Oppa Gangnam Style” dance moves a success in preventing more fireworks injuries?

In its final tally, the DOH said there were a total of 931 fireworks-related injuries during the recent holiday season, “the lowest number of injuries since 2009.”

Health Secretary Enrique Ona described Tayag’s unorthodox way of promoting their health campaigns as a “symbolic” means to change local customs.

“It means we can change the way we celebrate the New Year,” the health secretary said.

Asked if Tayag had another dance number for next year’s campaign, Ona quipped, “Maybe next year, it’s going to be (Health Undersecretary Teodoro) Herbosa’s turn.  But he’s going to dance the pandanggo.”

That of course doesn’t mean that Tayag would be dancing his way into electoral office instead.  Despite his high-profile moves, he disavows any political plans.  “My future goal is to make Filipinos healthier through the simplest means possible,” Tayag said. •

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