COVID-19: A Close look at the Philippine Health Sector in Action
On 30 January 2020, the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) reported the first case of COVID-19 in the country with a 38-year-old female Chinese national. On 7 March, the first local transmission of COVID-19 was confirmed.
Before the first reported case of Coronavirus in the Philippines, the local government health officials have been closely monitoring the status of the outbreak in other countries. In 28 January, the DOH convened the first Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) meeting. This task force was chaired by the DOH, its members are representatives from the Departments of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Interior and Local Government (DILG), Justice (DOJ), Labor and Employment (DOLE), Tourism (DOT), Transportation (DOTr), Trade and Industry (DTI), Agriculture (DA), Budget and Management (DBM), Information and Communications Technology (DICT). On the next day (29 January), the DOH released the first public advisory on 2019-nCoV Health Event to inform national agencies and Local Government Units on the Resolution agreed upon the task force meeting. It was also on 30 January that the DOH released a Decision Tool for the 2019-nCoV (now known as COVID-19) which is updated whenever knew information about the virus arrives.
It was on 16 March when the whole of Luzon was placed under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) Lockdown under the directions of President Rodrigo Duterte. This lockdown was originally set to last until 12 April, but under the recommendation of the taskforce (IATF-EID), Pres. Duterte extended the lockdown until 30 April.
On 23 March, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act was published and passed, which was then signed (24 March) and was effective immediately (25 March). This law grants the President temporary additional authority to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. As more and more cases are confirmed, this law was enacted to "authorize the President to exercise powers necessary to carry out urgent measures to meet the current national emergency related to COVID-19 only for three months unless extended by Congress”, and allow him to "reallocate, realign, and reprogram" the approved national budget for 2020.
In line with this, to help better understand the Bayanihan Act and to encourage continuous professional development of Philippine boards and directors despite the ongoing situation, ICD launched the first installment on their webinar series entitled Let Us Heal as One - Understanding the Bayanihan Act last 8 April 2020. Click here to read the write-up of the webinar, written by the speaker himself - Atty. Cesar Villanueva.
Earlier this April, the DOH released a data collecting application called the ‘COVID-19 tracker’. The DOH collaborated with epidemiologist Mr. Nel Jason Haw and data science consulting firm Thinking Machines for the creation of this tracker.
“The new COVID-19 tracker is not perfect and we hope to add more information in the succeeding days, but it is our fervent hope that this responds to the information needs and the call for transparency from our citizens.”
- Health Secretary Francisco Duque III
The COVID-19 tracker is now currently migrating into the new COVID Kaya System, a new and updated “contact tracing reporting system for epidemiology and surveillance officers, health care providers and laboratory-based users, expanding the capacity of the previous COVID-19 information system” developed by DOH with the assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO and its partners have been working with the DOH in battling this pandemic. WHO also lent their support on technical assistance to strengthen field surveillance system, provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, laboratory supplies and extraction kits for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), assisted on the accreditation of COVID-19 testing laboratories, and development of Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) policies. The two developed modules together that were conducted on an online Infection prevention and control (IPC) training, and a webinar series on clinical management for frontline health workers.
Through the Covid-19 tracker and Covid Kaya System, the public can now view real-time data and have a snapshot of the country’s health system's capacity in one page and coming from one legitimate source. As there is an influx of information scattered on websites and social media platforms related to the pandemic, there are bound to be some false information mixed in.
Despite of all the efforts, the Philippines still clearly has a long way to go. The country still faces challenges in terms of supplies and facilities. Researchers from the University of the Philippines (UP) have also published a report on Estimated Local Healthcare Capacity to Deal with COVID-19 Case Surge which warns that hospital care resources may be overwhelmed if the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 surges after the relaxation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
We are all scared of the unknown brought by COVID-19, and in times like this it is likely that people will feel fearful and anxious. It is important to keep the public informed and provide mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). ICD also highly values transparency and accountability, and it is a time like this that it is all the more important to be transparent at all times.
”A pearl buried inside a tightly-shut shell is practically worthless. Government information is a pearl, meant to be shared with the public in order to maximize its inherent value.”
- Philippine Transparency Seal