Hospital frontliners wear personal protective equipment as they man the entrance of the emergency room in the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Tondo, Manila on March 24, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) and various doctors' groups announced on Tuesday that they will be collaborating to improve the Philippines’ COVID-19 response.
During a virtual forum, the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) and other health groups discussed their suggestions to the government during a meeting on Monday.
Besides the DOH, the groups said officials in charge of the country’s COVID-19 response also asked for their suggestions.
The meeting happened after the government placed Metro Manila and nearby provinces under the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in response to the PCP’s call over the weekend for a "timeout" that may help health workers cope with rising COVID-19 cases.
Over the weekend, the PCP and groups like the Philippine Medical Association asked the government for “breathing space” by returning Mega Manila to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), similar to extreme lockdown, as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise.
Dr. Aileen Espina of the Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians (PSPHP) said the National Task Force has agreed to incorporate their 7-point recommendation in the country’s National Action Plan.
The recommendations, presented by the doctors in a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte on August 1, include dealing with hospital workforce deficiency, case finding and isolation, contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection, and social amelioration for those who will be affected by their proposed “timeout.”
“We are now in the process of submitting the formal document for submission in the next few days,” Espina said.
Among the interventions identified and agreed upon during their meeting was “the recruitment of additional health human resources to augment the health facilities, not just government hospitals but also private hospitals.”
She said they also asked for a compensation and benefits package for health care workers and assistance in supply chain management.
“All these interventions would require time to implement. This is not going to happen overnight,” Espina explained, adding that it required a whole-of-government approach.
CODE vs COVID-19
In a statement, the DOH said the “timeout” or the 14-day MECQ “will be used to take a few steps back and see our COVID situation in a bigger picture.”
The DOH said the Monday meeting with representatives of over 100 medical societies will only be the first of a series.
There will also be a working group that will come up with strategies to address the following “critical areas”:
- health workforce deficiency;
- contact tracing and isolation protocols;
- transportation and workplace safety guidelines;
- proper distribution of social amelioration;
- testing capabilities to ensure we are using the appropriate tools in detecting the COVID infection; and,
- cascading of protocols to the local government units and the private sector.
The DOH also said their Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic or CODE campaign for the local communities was well-received by the medical societies.
CODE is “a 14-day protocol anchored on strong ownership and leadership by local leaders and community members, proactive behavior change campaign, provision of masks, active case finding through house-to-house symptoms checking, early isolation of close contacts and coordinated referral to facilities,” the DOH said.
Dr. Lei Alfonso of PSPHP, who also attended the meeting on Monday, said they will be implementing the CODE strategy with the DOH.
“Hindi mo makuha kung saan (nahawa): sa pagsakay ba ng sasakyan, sa kaopisina ba sa trabaho. Hindi natin matukoy. Wala tayong maayos na contact tracing system,” Alfonso said.
(You do not know where these patients were infected. In riding a vehicle or from their co-worker in the officer? We cannot identify. We do not have a proper contact tracing system.)
Alfonso said it’s important to implement a single format form that will make it easier to trace COVID-19 cases. She said they also talked about the role of other government agencies in the contact tracing efforts.
“We will help in the telenavigation and teleconsultation. We will also help in the contact tracings and we will also help in strengthening coordination with LGUs,” she said.
The DOH said that the roles of the participating groups, as well as their timelines and targets will be more clearly defined during a meeting on Tuesday.
Although the health groups welcomed and thanked the President for heeding their plea, the doctors again reiterated that they meant no harm.
“We called the attention of our President the last time because we saw the urgent need to come up with immediate solution so we can stop the rising number of COVID-19. But we never called for a revolution. I am actually very -- should I say -- sad when I heard about it,” said Dr. Mario Panaligan, PCP president, in response to the President’s comment that they should not be demeaning government or calling for a “revolution.”
“We are not inclined to hurt anybody as we have said, first do no harm. We actually take care of patients, we save their lives, we help them, especially those who are in need,” Panaligan added. “Nandun kami sa harap ng panganib dahil na rin sa COVID-19 pero hindi namin nakakalimutan din syempre na gumawa ng paraan para hindi naman kami magkasakit at kahit kami ay makaligtas sa COVID-19.”
(We face danger because of COVID-19 and we should not forget that we are also finding ways so we don’t get infected by COVID-19.)
Dr. Maricar Limpin, vice-president of PCP, said they are now in the last 2 minutes of the COVID-19 fight and they need to huddle as a team.
“This is our last 2 minutes,” she said, emphasizing how important the recalibration of efforts will be in the coming days.
As of Monday, there were 106,330 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines with 38,405 of them still infected and recuperating in hospitals or their homes.
A total of 2,104 have also died due to the disease. The last week has seen record-high numbers in additional cases, especially in Metro Manila.