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Spreading information and hope: COVID-19 and Me webinar

Last March 13, a webinar titled COVID-19 and Me: How Do We Cope?—Part 2 was hosted online by Ateneo de Manila University. The event was part of the IPC eTuro UHC Webinar Series 2020, which aimed to shed light on the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications on public health and safety. 

Dr. Regina Berba from the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and Philippine Society of Microbiology and Dr. Ronaldo Enrique Domingo, incumbent Director-General of the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines, were present as resource persons for the event. The webinar was facilitated by Dr. Dennis Batangan, eTuro Project Director and Research Associate of the Institute of Philippine Culture. 

The discussion revolved around the dissemination of updated information on the local COVID-19 outbreak, as well as programs and plans from the government and health sectors to stave off further transmission of the virus and facilitate recovery of existing cases. 

A global pandemic

“We live in extraordinary times,” Berba stated, referring to the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 as a global pandemic last March 11. She also referenced President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement on the raising of Code Red Sublevel 2, indicating stringent physical distancing measures to be implemented in the National Capital Region for 30 days⁠⁠. These measures, Berba claimed, are essentially equivalent to a lockdown. 

With the term “pandemic” bringing fear and anxiety to many, Berba clarified that declaring a pandemic is a protocol meant to spur governments into activating disaster preparedness plans and emergency procedures to protect the public. She assured the audience that WHO’s declaration was necessary in order to actuate intensive protocols to help mitigate the spread of the virus. 

The current global crisis can be controlled, Berba asserted, adding that human rights should still be respected, as emphasized by the WHO. “We urge all countries to take a comprehensive approach tailored to their circumstances—with containment as the central pillar,” Berba reiterated. The aforementioned system includes the reduction and suppression of transmission⁠⁠, which necessitates the improvement of healthcare practices in the country, especially with the surging number of cases being reported.

Taking action

Berba presented a deeper look into what COVID-19 is and what health authorities know so far regarding the disease. The coronavirus can be transmitted between humans and non-human animals; disease symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, flu symptoms, and difficulty in breathing⁠⁠—the last of which is most often observed in severe cases. COVID-19 is also highly contagious, as the virus can spread through inhaling “respiratory droplets” produced from coughs, sneezes, breathing, and talking. 

With the priority allocated to COVID-19 response, Domingo stated, “Hospitals are required to stop accepting non-emergency cases.” Berba also stressed the importance of isolating patients and any individuals in the community suspected of carrying the virus to help prevent the spread of the disease. She acknowledged, however, that this would be “especially difficult and threatening” in slum areas due to crowding or having a high density of people.

Additionally, physical distancing should as much as possible be practiced, regardless of the presence of positive cases. “[Physical] distancing measures are taken to be strict [about] where people can gather, to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases. [Physical] distancing measures include limiting large groups of people coming together, closing buildings, and canceling events,” she explained. 

Local units from the health sector have done their part in attending to the needs of the citizens. Berba stressed that aside from requiring clinical skills and infection control procedures, health workers must also deal with anxiety and fear, as well as the lack of protective equipment. 

PGH, as Berba relayed, responded to the public health crisis with the creation of the Incident Command System and the Covid Task Force, a new unit dedicated to COVID-19 cases. “We have made guidelines and trained our [staff] to cope and manage patients with COVID-19,” she disclosed. Also mentioned was the  COVID-19 test kit developed by the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health, which was considered a “big step in helping authorities detect cases”, according to Berba. 

“What the government is really doing now is that we have to make sure that [the outbreak] doesn’t come too fast and that we do not overload our health system,” Domingo asserted. With hospital staff trained to handle suspect and infected patients, alongside local innovations like UP’s testing kits, he expressed hopes for the country to be able to cope and address the pandemic effectively.

Berba also emphasized that the Philippines should “do whatever it takes to contain the viral outbreak,” lest the situation devolve into something uncontrollable.

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