"The poor are the ones having the most difficult time."
I am writing this as my two grandchildren are happily playing and horsing around. Without a care in the world, their shrieks and laughter reverberate in my home. They stay with me when their parents, both doctors, are on duty in different hospitals.
My grandchildren are lucky and privileged. Like them, I am also privileged. My only responsibility at this point is to not get sick. So I stay home, work from home, and help from home. This is a time for people to care for others.
I worry, too. My daughter and son-in-law, because they are medical doctors, are exposed to this virus. Although they take all the necessary precautions, I still fear for them because like many other health service providers, there is an acute shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for them. The worry, fear, and pain that families of our medical people feel as they fulfill their responsibilities may not be understood by others but this is very real.
Many doctors are now sick to the point that in some hospitals, even the consultants are being called upon to be front liners. One Filipino doctor has already passed on. Our front liners are at risk. If more of them get sick, who will take care of the public?
We do not have enough testing kits. People with symptoms are dying without getting tested and therefore are not included in our COVID-19 statistics. Many who experience “mild” symptoms try to get tested but are turned away by hospitals because they lack the precious kits. Thus, we really cannot rely on the numbers released by government because very few get tested. I wonder how many in poor and congested communities have the virus, or have died without even knowing they had the virus?
While other countries’ COVID-19 cases are now being controlled and numbers are going down, ours are on the upswing. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) scenario for the Philippines is grim. There will be an estimated 75,000 cases in the next five weeks and five per cent of these will be severe. How is the country going to cope if, (more likely, when,) this happens?
Health Secretary Francisco Duque said that more testing kits are coming and supposedly, already arrived. For now, we are waiting for the kits developed by the University of the Philippines scientists to be ready for use so more testing can be done.
Another problem now is the time lag between testing and having the results of the test. On the average, it takes two weeks. Sadly patients expire before even knowing that they had COVID-19, just like the cases of patients in the cities of Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro.
This is because we only have ONE facility with trained human resources that does this function and it is the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in the city of Manila. No wonder, it takes long. No wonder, hospitals are asking for private donations of ice packs and ice chests for proper transport of specimens to the RITM for processing.
Because of this problem, Marikina City’s local government unit led by Mayor Marcy Teodoro went ahead and purchased the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) equipment, trained health workers to use it, and set up a molecular biology laboratory needed for testing possible COVID-19 cases and processing the tests. The good mayor said that starting March 24, they will be able to start providing free testing and processing using its equipment and laboratory. If Marikina can do this, certainly other LGUs, and the national government can, too. This way, the results of tests are known within a short period of time and the chances of patients to get immediate treatment become greater.
Hospitals are calling for the designation of specific hospitals as exclusive treatment facilities for COVID-19 cases. The Health Department directed all hospitals to accept such cases and this has resulted in the inability of hospitals to treat other cases. In fact, there are those that closed their Out-Patient Departments (OPD). This means that people who are sick of other diseases are being turned away.
This may have also caused the infection of more health providers because the confirmed cases are scattered and there is a shortage of PPE. Concentrating on COVID-19 cases is one strategy used by other countries that are now succeeding in addressing the disease. Doing this will also maximize government resources since the need for PPE and supplies will also be concentrated in the facilities. We should learn from them and listen to the ones in the front lines.
Now, to realize social distancing, we need the government to immediately come up with a package of assistance for daily wage-earners (whose work are not crucial to the continued functioning of the country), the workers in the informal economy, and those in poor and congested areas. They are out because they need to survive and not because they want to disobey the “rules” for no one in her/his right mind would want to get the virus.
Such package should include: an assurance that they will not lose their jobs (for the employed); financial help to tide them over; food and other necessities such as alcohol, masks, soap, etc. If these are done, those who go out will significantly decrease and the curve will be flattened.
For now, the poor are the ones having the most difficult time. They are exposed to the virus as they try to earn some so their families have food to eat. The national government must come in. Otherwise, it will be very hard to contain the virus.
President Duterte has repeatedly said that they have enough funds to address CoViD19. If this is true then there should not be major problems in effectively and efficiently fighting the virus. Implement medical and social solutions beyond tapping the police and military to solve what, after all, is a HEALTH crisis.
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