Frustrated former health secretary pens a solid 4-point plan to defeat COVID-19 2
Hospital front liners wear personal protective equipment as they man the entrance of the emergency room in the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Tondo, Manila.

Frustrated former health secretary pens a solid 4-point plan to defeat COVID-19

Whether you want to look at this as a war or a crisis, we as citizens can do more than just stay at home, says this mother and son team. By JAM PASCUAL
| Mar 31 2020

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include Michael Sy as an author of the paper entitled “Citizens’ Call for a Public Health COVID-19 Strategy.”

Two weeks have passed since the government announced a lockdown in Metro Manila, and implemented measures to police the movements of the populace. Medical frontliners who stand between oblivion and frightened people are running low on personal protective equipment. And even after the Senate and House of Representatives voted to give the president emergency powers, it is unclear how these new powers will effect the crisis. Meanwhile, we are told the most we can do, with all our power as regular citizens, is stay at home.

Whether you call this outbreak a war or a crisis, what we need aren’t martyrs or sacrifice, but a solid strategy. The whole point of flattening the curve is efficiently combating the virus without overwhelming the medical system, which means being smart about usage of labor and resources. How do you achieve that, when things are more tenuous than ever?

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We’ll save you the trouble of plugging into a newsfeed saturated with despair, and point you to one document: a call to action released by TOWNS Foundation Inc., and penned by former Health Secretary Esperanza Icasas-Cabral, her son Dr. Brian Cabral, and Michael Sy. The call to action expresses its strategy through four imperatives. 

Firstly: “Know your enemy.” This point calls for the importance of mass testing while acknowledging the scarcity of testing kits, and the fact that COVID-19 patients often have to wait 12 days before finding out their test results. That’s not even counting those who die without ever learning if they were indeed carriers of the virus. In the paper, Sy and the Cabrals suggest a set-up that can help work around these challenges, which involves strategies including but not limited to: screening over the phone or online, and efficiently getting test samples and sending them to laboratories.

Secondly: “Taking care of the ill.” One reason our medical system is overwhelmed is because hospitals currently do not have the space or means to properly care for the influx of people coming in for testing, let alone the patients who are already sick. What to do then? 

How about converting large spaces into makeshift hospitals? The paper suggests Araneta Coliseum, [MOA] Arena, Rizal Memorial, and the World Trade Center as possible shelters, and emphasizes that hospitals that just have “COVID” wings won’t be enough. What we need are facilities fully dedicated to caring for COVID patients, if we are to hold out on any hope of quashing this pandemic.

Thirdly: “Protecting the frontliners.” Several of our doctors have perished since government started addressing COVID-19 as a real crisis. Many of these deaths could have been avoided. So how do we protect our medical frontliners? Supply them gowns, masks, goggles. Everything they need to protect themselves and lower the chances of contracting the virus. The paper also emphasizes the need to increase the allowance of health workers beyond the measly P500 wage previously suggested. 

And finally: “Protecting the citizenry.” This is the most abstract call to action, perhaps because it is probably the most difficult issue to address. The whole point of coming up with a strategy against COVID-19 is to protect the citizenry. But there’s so much to address. The majority of people with homes know full well the value of staying inside, and they comply, but what about the homeless and the daily wage earners? What about the retail workers who are actually putting their lives on the line to stock supermarket shelves? Those are difficult questions to answer. But Sy and the Cabrals do state: “This is not an exercise for politicians who want to showboat.” The call to action puts stock in policy, infrastructure, and human resources. That’s more sensible than asking one’s citizens to simply be resilient, or sacrifice themselves in the line of duty.

The government and even private business might find it useful to consult these four imperatives. Because while it is certainly helpful when people come together to donate and volunteer, it shouldn’t be the burden of ordinary folk to handle this pandemic. It should be the organizations we have, and the leaders we elected, who are responsible to affect change on a massive scale.

The TOWNS Foundation has sent tens of thousands of PPEs procured through donations to 170 public hospitals in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. 


You can read the paper and its four imperatives here.

Photograph from George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News.