By Datu Zahir Meditar
Millions of lives are at stake because of the government’s negligence in urgently implementing concrete and sustainable medical solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, especially in providing enough budget and funds to the frontline sectors.
The public health situation of the country, as we know it, has long been struggling with inadequate facilities and lack of financial support through the years, evidenced by the struggles faced by our public hospitals. Now, since we are facing uncertain and frightening times with huge challenges that need to be addressed properly without compromising the lives of innocent people, the call for mass testing now is more widely relevant than ever.
On an increasing number of 552 confirmed cases, with 35 deaths, 20 recoveries, 606 patients under investigation (PUIs), and 6,321 persons under monitoring (PUMs), it is critically alarming to note that the national government had conducted only 1,622 tests in response to addressing this problem.
Noting this fact, we can assume that the actual number of positive cases are more than the number of confirmed cases. Equally alarming to this is the demographics of our nation. With around 50,000 people per square kilometer, Manila is the city with the highest population density in the world. Amid landlessness and monopoly of space, poverty exhibits the vulnerability of the people. Thus, as an infectious virus, COVID-19 is a harrowing spectre in the Philippines.
Since there are still many persons either awaiting for results or did not have the means to get tested yet as the testing kits are extremely scarce at the moment, the nation continues to fight a blind war against an unseen enemy. Even with WHO’s recommendation to conduct mass testing, the government still falls behind efforts necessary to combat COVID-19. All of these are not in an immediate sense – different administrations have long been dismissing the urgency to support and revolutionize our healthcare system; lackluster efforts from the Duterte administration further emphasize this point.
Also disturbing is the fact that politicians and high-ranking officials, due to abuse of power, got special treatments and had themselves get tested for COVID-19, despite not exhibiting any symptoms at all hence not observing the proper protocols set by the Department of Health. Given that there are few loads of kits, people are dying before they even receive their results for them to be treated with care and yet these “VIPs” are basking on their privileges to shelter their selfish and insensitive desires to survive this pandemic. Abusing power while flexing their luxurious privilege produces loss of accountability, making many people suffer in waiting for the results as if it could last a lifetime, but too quickly for the few.
This is a manifestation of how their sympathies are nowhere to be found for those people risking their lives in the front line sectors, offering their expertise and efforts to public service at trying times like this. Some of them are already in critical conditions and we cannot afford to lose another frontline worker, may it be a doctor, nurse, medical staff, journalist, social worker, driver, or anyone who has tirelessly been giving their all at the forefront in safeguarding the country while combating this pandemic.
On another note, ECQ and lockdown imposed by Duterte via the IATF does not fully address the root of the problem. We will not be able to defeat the coronavirus solely in this way because public health measures are more essential to avoid a comeback of this virus in the future. Since we still do not know who else is diagnosed, then we won’t be able to isolate them for further care and healing. Thus, even if the government imposes extended quarantine, when a single COVID-19 case survives through sustained transmission, all of our efforts will go back to square one.
As part of the continuing demand for a comprehensive medical solution, it is now time to plea for a free and systematic mass testing in line with the criticism brought by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) to countries that are not displaying enough sense of urgency in testing, isolating, and contact tracing people, like the Philippines. Through this, it will prioritize testing patients with COVID-19 symptoms, frontline health workers, communities with positive cases, and not some politicians and high-profile officials.
“Test, test, test. Test every suspected case,” as stated by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Unfortunately, the Department of Health (DOH) shows no interest in mass testing yet, further stating that they are still waiting for the need to arise.
The arguments may continue to spark, opposing this call as the government lacks funds and facilities. The only ways to increase our country’s capability for mass testing are to waive or expedite regulatory requirements for locally developed test kits, such as those that were crafted by our scientists in UP; to tap academic and research institutions for resources; and, to call the DOH/RITM to further equip and mobilize our frontline sectors.
Other countries also proved the success of mass testing as a substitute measure to control this pandemic, as the specific therapy or vaccine is still absent. In South Korea, mass indiscriminate testing with conscientious contact tracing and quarantine of those the carrier has come into exposure with has been an effective tool for its number of new cases to dramatically decline. Meanwhile, in one Italian town, they showed that mass testing paved the way for the virus to be eradicated by putting each inhabitant of the whole town to testing, which helped in classifying and isolating groups of infected people.
It is now time to demand the government to push through this mass testing by them to also provide necessary medical equipment for health workers such as Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs), fund quality facilities to hospitals, and allocate all available discretionary funds to aid the health sector. Identifying people who are infected, plus immediate medical response to them, is now a huge leap for us to succeed in these trying times; or else, everything would lead to mass destruction. [P]