"We are talking about years, even beyond the discovery of a cure."
By now, five months into the lockdown, there is universal acceptance that the COVID-19 pandemic with all its virulence is here to stay. Until a vaccine and a cure comes soon enough, the fear, anxieties and hardships that this deadly outbreak continues to inflict on all nations and peoples will leave us all hungering for deliverance. As the experts now concede, we will have to learn to live with COVID – maybe for years to come, even beyond the discovery of a cure to save lives. The world will also have to grapple with saving economies and livelihoods devastated by this outbreak.
As of this writing, the hollowing out of the global economy has spared no one. No one. Not even the most developed and resilient economies like the United States, China, Japan, key members of the European Union, and South Korea. In the process, the contraction has thrown millions of people out of jobs with its attendant impact on hunger and the other diseases, seasonal or otherwise. To think that this global contraction has yet to reach bottom.
In the Philippines, the COVID-19 outbreak has taken us into technical recession as the second quarter contracted by 16.5 percent – the lowest in years. In the process, this exacerbated our already overwhelmed public health system. With this development, the country’s public health crisis which has persisted through the years will definitely become even more problematic.
The figures are clear. While COVID-19 has accounted for close to 3,000 deaths over the past five months, we are told that no less than 31,000 Filipino children have been dying every year at least for the past five years due to malnutrition. The international organization Save the Children has even linked about 838,000 additional Filipino deaths in 2013 alone due to hunger and malnutrition. These numbers will definitely get even bigger as the economy contracts under the weight of all the restrictions imposed in battling COVID-19.
The latest Social Weather Stations survey on hunger issued last month noted that involuntary hunger affected 5.2 million (20.9 percent) Filipino families, more than double the December 2019 figure (8.8 percent). This was also higher by 4.2 percentage points, or by about one million more families, than the May figure of 16.7 percent, a clear indication that the hunger problem exacerbated in the last five months under the various levels of quarantine. We are certain that despite the two-week “time out” as requested by our health workers, and even with our best efforts there can be no denying that these problems will linger. We really have no choice but to live with these influences and ensure that their negative impact will be as tolerable as can be.
To that end, we reiterate our earlier push for strict adherence to the government’s Save Lives, Save Livelihoods plan. That plan meant to adjust public health and social measures in the context of COVID-19 was earlier endorsed by WHO and our other partners, in and out of government, locally and abroad, consisted of the following core requirements: a) Breaking the chains of transmission by detecting, isolating, testing and treating cases and quarantining contacts and monitoring hot spots of disease circulation (Test, Trace, Isolate, Protect); b) Enrolling a sufficient number of public health workforce and ensure health system capacities are in place; c) Mapping out high-vulnerability settings are minimized and organize rapid deployment medical teams to minimize damage; d) Enforcing preventive measures in workplaces, transport hubs and other public places where people congregate; e) Managing and ensuring proper border controls for both internal and international travelers and the transport of goods and f) Ensuring the proper and responsible engagement of local authorities and communities in plan implementation.
But quite apart from the above, there is a need to engage each and every citizen to be part of the solution not be the problem. Save Oneself, Save Others. Saving Lives and Livelihoods cannot be the government's responsibility alone. Or that of civic, business, religious or other groups. Each and every citizen must be part of the whole enterprise. Individual responsibility comes with being part of the bigger community. We have to do our share.
In this regard, the protocols – staying at home except for essentials, wearing of masks, practicing social distancing, washing of hands, avoiding crowding or congregating – should be strictly observed. We should exercise as much as possible, eat healthy, rest well and use other tried-and-tested ways of treating the common colds like salt steam inhaling. But more than those, there have been a number of feeds in social media advocating some participatory initiatives.
One such idea is “Reading Oneself” – meaning being able to detect signs of infection and undertaking medical (initially home) intervention for mild and asymptomatic cases. The symptoms are self evident: continuous coughing, high temperature, dry throat, loss of taste and smell and loss of appetite. Then, if things do not get any better, initiate healing with medical guidance, before going to the hospital.
It is very possible that you only need to do home quarantine to avoid swamping these already overwhelmed facilities with your presence. Indeed, there are a thousand and one ways an individual can do to take care of himself and in the process take care of family members and the community. By being healthy and abiding by the protocols, one has done his share in our common goal of living with COVID-19 and moving on. That should be a no-brainer.