Primary lines of defense have collapsed.
Stay home – dead in the water when businesses opened.
Wear masks – badly compromised when DOH/FDA never clearly gave specifications that make masks work against the Covid-19 virus, and when the same agencies never monitored the efficacy of masks being worn.
Wash hands frequently – good for some, not practical for most, no adequate washing facilities outside of houses, and no instant water available for the lower income bracket.
Social or physical distancing – applicable to larger offices and restaurants, not applicable to public transport, public markets, busy streets, and other workplaces.
What are secondary lines of defense? Vitamins and supplements? Yes, but for how many of the 110 million Filipinos? And for those who can afford to buy, for how long? Definitely, the poorest 30% cannot afford anything because they cannot even be assured of three meals a day. The next 50% were financially compromised when work was interrupted, together with their income. Take a look at the target beneficiaries of the ayuda and you will have a sense who can afford nothing, a little, or just a little more.
Third line of defense can only be doctors, hospitals, health centers, and other medical frontliners. In Metro Manila, that line of defense has been overwhelmed. By now, patients are going to alternative medical centers in nearby provinces – and finding out that they, too, are on the verge of being overwhelmed.
Last line of defense, medicines that offer possibilities in preventive and curative capacity, medicines that can be afforded by every Filipino family. Was there ever any such line of defense for the majority of Filipinos? What medicine? I am not talking about just vitamins and supplements anymore. When the infections have set in, something stronger is needed, like the FDA-approved Remdesivir. But Remdesivir is for the upper 1% of the economic strata. The rest would have to borrow money to afford its treatment, plus hospitalization which can administer the medicine.
It was not as if there was no warning about waves of infections when normal businesses open. That is because those who stayed at home will then be in the streets and workplaces. And because they were never properly warned that their primary protective gear – masks – are effective only under certain conditions. That means millions out there are exposed, or are carriers of Covid-19, until the practice of mask-wearing is matched by proper specifications and maintenance.
But the ones in charge did not see or did learn lessons well and did not look at the signs. Even as the surge was beginning in February, they avoided confronting the warning. Then, it came. From hundreds of new daily infections to thousands. The ones in charge did not drop the ball – they never held it.
Now they scramble to contain the damage. And they go more aggressive because deaths, not only infections, are starting to have a surge. The odds against dying of Covid-19 are low, but they increase when infections increase. In volume, deaths will go up and up as the healthcare system is unable to cope.
Sickness scares people, but deaths bring the fear to another level. That is where it is today in Metro Manila and Bubble provinces are – at near chaos from fear. Let us not underestimate the possibilities of disorder from a chaotic situation driven by fear. Add hunger, add anger, and we have a full-fledged catastrophe the likes of Yolanda multiplied. Do not ask me what that looks like because no one will like it, not this administration, not its opponents.
Arrest the fear, immediately. Offer hope, show our people that they can avoid infections, they can avoid dying. But not by simply repeating the first line defense protocol. It has failed and needs to be repaired if it ever will be effective again. Give them a way out. Give them a chance to save themselves and their families.
What is that today? What can the government offer? What can DOH and FDA offer? Please do not say there is nothing that all Filipinos can get their hands on, get their intelligence and guts on to help themselves. But if our health authorities have nothing to offer, then please tell the people the dark truth, beg their forgiveness, and let anyone with a bright idea or innovative way or an alternative medicine offer it to the people. Do not just go to your books and manuals and international rules and regulations to deny your own people a chance to save themselves. That is shameful. It may even be criminal.
I wrote last week that impracticality can turn to stupidity. That was last week, and that was the first stage. From then to today there have been hundreds of deaths and even more thousands unable to get even space for treatment. But if DOH and FDA, and doctors who are too afraid to imagine a life that did not all the time obey WHO and US FDA, are themselves not helpful beyond personally curing their patients, please do not be obstacles in efforts to find solutions you do not have. Stay in your zones. You already cannot do enough there.
When the wheel has turned from impracticality to stupidity, it can still turn further – from stupidity to arrogance. I think the DOH and FDA have begun the descent from stupidity to arrogance, accompanied by their faithful liege and defenders. They can still apply the emergency brakes; they have time but not much. Because Covid-19 is on a roll. It is galloping with the wind behind it. And it will maim or kill everyone in its path.
Brave doctors and concerned citizens out there who value their peoples’ lives beyond the boundaries of WHO, US FDA, FDA Philippines, and DOH, please do not give up on the Filipinos. If you find a cure or a treatment that is not worse than being infected or killed by Covid-19, prescribe it, share it, tell the people, and take the risks so your people may find hope.
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