PH health capacity nears red line – WHO

THE World Health Organization (WHO) views the increasing number of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases in the Philippines as “concerning” and urges the government to continue improving its health care capacity.

Speaking during a virtual press conference in celebration of World Health Day on Wednesday, WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai noted that the Covid surge was inching toward the “red line.”

 A signage hangs outside the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay City informing the public that its Covid-19 ward is full. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

“We know that once we cross the ‘red line’, we put the health care workers in a difficult situation, and once health care workers get [the] infection, the health care capacity goes down,” Kasai said.

There were many factors for the surge, chief of which is the emergence of the variants of concern, such as the B117, B1351 and the P1 variants as well as the P3 variant first discovered in Central Visayas, he said.

Kasai also noted the half-hearted compliance with minimum health standards, such as wearing of masks and face shields and physical distancing.

He also blamed vaccine optimism as well as the prevalence of mild, asymptomatic and presymptomatic cases among 20 to 40 year olds.

Aside from the Philippines, other countries in the Western Pacific region are experiencing a similar resurgence in Covid cases, according to Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, WHO’s regional emergency director.

“We have no room for complacency, and we have to remain vigilant,” Olowokure said.
Olowokure said the virus will remain for a “foreseeable future” and the variants have highlighted the importance of multisource genomic surveillance and early detection.

Kasai urged the government to build up its health care capacity, which includes setting up intermediate care or temporary quarantine facilities for mild and moderate cases.

He said strengthening contact tracing would be the key to determining where infections are occurring.

Kasai noted that the arrival alone of vaccines in several countries across the region, including the Philippines, does not prevent the spread of the virus.

“It is very important for every individual to practice basic prevention measures to protect yourself, your family, and communities, vulnerable communities and health care workers,” he said.

Dr. Huong Thi Giang Tran, director for Programs for Disease Control, agreed with Kasai, adding that being vaccinated is not an excuse to throw away caution.

“The arrival of the vaccine under the Covax Facility gives hope to everyone, but it will be many months for all the people to be vaccinated. We must continue to work equitable distribution to ensure countries with the highest priorities are protected as soon as possible,” Tran said.

Trust is key

At a forum organized by the Department of Health (DoH), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) General Manager Jose Arturo Garcia said the public should trust their local government units in setting up a triage system as the “first line of defense” against possible hospital capacity hitches.

Garcia said LGUs should inform their citizens that there will be doctors and nurses that will take care of them in a triage system.

The triage, established after meetings with the DoH and the One Hospital Command center, will allow patients to call their LGUs first before being placed in either a hospital or a temporary treatment and monitoring facility.

“Mahirap i-qualify ‘yung tiwala na ‘yan (It’s hard to qualify that trust). People need to know and feel that they are safe, secure sa mga triage na ‘yan, and the people will follow,” Garcia said.

He hopes that the triage will allow mild and moderate cases to be transferred quickly to isolation centers instead of going into hospitals, which were close to being overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.

OCTA Research Fellow Dr. Guido David said the reproduction number or R0 (R-naught) of Metro Manila is at 1.32, but there is a possibility it will increase within the next few days.

On Thursday, the number of new Covid-19 cases shot up again to 9,216, pushing the total cases to 828,366.

New recoveries were at 646,968, including 598 new recoveries, while 60 fatalities were added, for a total of 14,119 deaths.

The positivity rate was 20.8 percent, or more than 8,300 positive cases out of the 39.969 tested.

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Pangilinan appealed to WHO to put the Philippines on top of the list of beneficiaries of vaccines under its Covax Facility to help avert the collapse of the country’s healthcare system.

“Covid-19 is spreading like wildfire and overwhelming our health care capacity,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

“We trust that the international community will live up to its commitment to treat vaccinations as a global public good, and ensure affordable, equitable, and fair access to vaccines for all,” he said.