Senator Risa Hontiveros, together with former health secretaries and other policy experts, bared on Monday a four-point plan as an urgent appeal to the government to intensify efforts against the novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19. “Any talk of lifting or extending the enhanced community quarantine must be met with intensified efforts that are heavy on healthcare,” the Senator said on the eve of World Health Day.
A joint statement was signed by Hontiveros and notable health policy experts that include former Health Secretaries Esperanza Cabral and Jaime Galvez-Tan, Galing Pook’s Dr. Eddie Dorotan, University of the Philippines College of Public Health Dean and former DOH Undersecretary Dr. Vicente Belizario, Jr., and Ateneo de Manila University’s Institute of Philippine Culture – School of Social Sciences’ Dr. Dennis Batangan.
In the said statement, the health policy working group urged for the following: (1) tenfold increase in the number of people tested; (2) protection of health workers against discrimination and ample supply of personal protective equipment or PPE; (3) balance between hospital and community-based healthcare management system; and (4) support and capacity-building for local government units or LGUs.
The group also welcomed the government’s decision to conduct mass testing starting April 14. “There is a need to test more and the time is now. The government must acquire, distribute, and utilize available and acceptable testing kits to further improve our screening, detection, assessment and management of presumptive COVID-19 cases,” the statement said.
The health policy working group urged local government units to ensure the protection of health workers against discrimination. “It is lamentable that they are being discriminated in dormitories, housing and other establishments because of their line of work,” Hontiveros said. “The LGU must step in through an ordinance that protects our frontliners’ rights and welfare against any form of discrimination,” she said.
The health policy working group also proposed the organization of dedicated points of care for COVID-19 patients that include (a) conversion of existing facilities into makeshift hospitals; (b) equipping local networks of hospitals to be able to attend to mild cases of COVID-19 and as referring hospitals; (c) designation of local quarantine facilities to effectively isolate persons under investigation and monitoring; and (d) enabling communities and families to operate home-based COVID-19 care support systems.
“With households and communities as the first line of defense, the government must invest in the empowerment of families, community organizations and barangay councils in continuing preventive and protective practices against the disease,” the Joint Statement said.
The working group also recognized the role of LGUs in the fight against COVID-19 and urged the government through the Department of Interior and Local Government to mandate the activation and proper functioning of all Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams and the mobilization of all local health workers.
These proposals, according to Hontiveros, serve as a checklist to assess if the community quarantine measures implemented by the government are to be modified, extended or lifted.
“This is an urgent appeal to our national and government leaders. The fight against COVID-19 must, first and foremost, be heavy on healthcare,” Hontiveros said. “It is a catch-up plan to prevent the spread of infection, strengthen the country’s line of defense, and reduce the threat of COVID-19,” she concluded.