"We should demand radical changes now. The country deserves better and more compassionate service."
Last Wednesday. WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Takeshi Kasai expressed concern over the continuing surge in Covid 19 infections in the country noting that we are moving towards the so-called red line when the number of cases exceeds the capacity of health care putting our health care workers in a very difficult situation.
Noting that in the latest (April 5) COVID-19 update among the 37 member nations comprising the Western Pacific Region, the Philippines reported the highest number of infections with more than 11000, eight times more than the second highest, Malaysia (1349), eighteen times more than the third, Mongolia (620), and 25 times more than South Korea's 473, the fourth highest.
Worse, after maintaining a relatively steady mortality rate lower than the regional average for most part of last year, the latest (April 5) figures show that on a cumulative basis we now have the highest number of fatalities in the region with 13,245, almost three times more than the second highest, China, with 4851 deaths.
Said Kasai: "Once the health care workers start to get infection, the health care capacity goes down and, ironically, that is the time when more and more people need some help - there is consequence. It is very important to avoid crossing the red line."
So even as Kasai noted that the surge was possibly due to multiple factors including the emergence of COVID- 19 variants like the South African, UK and even our very own P.3, it was clear that he thinks our response measures after more than a year of lockdown are far from adequate and satisfactory - a sentiment which is increasingly shared by the general public.
Take the case of the most basic response measures advised early on apart from the lockdown protocols, i.e., mask wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing such as enhanced testing and tracing, increased quarantine (isolation) facilities down to the littlest barangay or cluster of barangays, enrollment of more health care workers providing for organized shifting in both public and private hospitals and streamlining the supply chain providing for timely access to affordable and much needed medical equipment and supplies, among others.
Did we ever get to attain at least 80 percent compliance with these basic requirements? Sadly, as is now very evident, woefully no.
We cannot and should not use that worn-out argument about our people's 'inherent aversion to restrictions', as some health officials are again saying. From the very start, the vast majority of our people have adhered to their part of the bargain, even if they had to scrounge around for their last centavo to buy a mask or soap specially during the early days of the pandemic. In the instances when some were shown to be averse to some of the protocols they were chastised and reported even shamed no end on social media. And now with reports of deaths of friends and relatives and the emergence of these new variants and surge in infections most have become even more careful adhering to the basic protocols even inside their homes.
Instead, what we should demand is government's compliance with its part of the bargain. Whatever happened to the promised breakthroughs in testing and contact tracing including the hiring of primed up contact tracers? What ever happened to the package of assistance to health care workers from increase in hazard pay to provision of PPEs, et. etc. etc? What ever happened to the hiring of more front line personnel as provided for in the two Bayanihan laws and even the 2020 and 2021 annual budgets? What ever happened to the billions of pesos for isolation centers and increased hospital capacities? What ever happened to the purchase of supplies and equipment as well as the donations coming from all sources, here and abroad?
In a word, this time is as proper as any for those authorized to provide the country with the fighting chance to survive and overcome this pandemic to account for all their promises and the billions spent to enhance our response measures to the fullest?
We should not wait for Kasai himself to remind us, albeit diplomatically, of our dire situation in this wise: "WHO continues to encourage countries to improve their surveillance system including monitoring the various variants of concern..as well as strengthen contact tracing so that they will know where infections are occurring and they can think how effectively..these can be suppressed."
Nor should we wait for him and the WHO to note in particular that "the WHO is also encouraging the Philippine government to continue improving its health care capacity, including setting up intermediate facilities for severe cases" even as he cautioned that "vaccines alone cannot control COVID-19 so we cannot as yet let our guard down."
Heck, if these are the advisories we get from the WHO after a year of one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, we must really be nearing free fall. And if the responses being issued by officials tasked to get us out of this sinkhole remains eerily the same then we should all say enough is enough. If they cannot put up and take the country far, far from the red line with all the authority and resources given them in the fastest time possible then they should be told to get out of the way. We should demand radical changes now. The country deserves better and more compassionate service.