COVID-free Agusan del Sur: Acting fast, working and learning together

One-and-a-half months since the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine, some provinces in the Philippines remained COVID-free. Agusan del Sur is one of them.

Governor Santiago Cane Jr. attributed this to the good teamwork among provincial and local government leaders and personnel. They also strictly adhered to the ECQ guidelines and protocols.

“What must be allowed must be allowed, and what is not must not be allowed. If we become complacent, then the problem will become uncontrollable. We have been blessed with people who can work hand-in-hand with each other,” Cane said.

Provincial health officer II Dr. Jacqueline Momville said the local government began distributing information, education and communication materials on COVID-19 in every barangay in early March. Even without a confirmed case, the LGU set up a COVID hotline and implemented strict monitoring of people entering the province.

The doctor also said its low population density could have contributed to Agusan del Sur’s zero COVID-19 case. And she linked this to the province’s intensive campaign on contraceptive use, a long-running campaign of the province in partnership with ZFF.

Preparing the people for the worst

Despite their success, the governor admitted they face issues now that the province is transitioning to general community quarantine (GCQ). One major concern is their inadequate number of healthcare personnel and equipment. And while it has enough community quarantine beds for mild and severe cases, it lacks ICU beds for critical cases should an outbreak occur.

Agusan del Sur is also adjacent to provinces with positive COVID-19 cases. Therefore, Dr. Jomar Rabajante of University of the Philippines Los Baños Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Physics said the province must guard their borders.

As a measure to fight the pandemic, Momville said the local government unit (LGU) are already planning to conduct province-wide training for disaster resilience in health to improve case detection, contact tracing, and address proliferation of fake news during emergencies.

ZFF trustee Dr. Dayrit said the key to keep COVID-19 cases zero lies in creating a communication system that would keep people informed of their own roles in combating the virus, as well as the concerted efforts of all levels of the LGU to protect the public.

Cane said their greatest defense now is the people’s compliance to staying at home. “We have to face this. I believe that this kind of war can only be won if we retreat to our homes. Ang mga duwag ang mananalo (The cowards will triumph). Follow the protocols.”

Another crucial step is providing PPE sets for all healthcare staff especially since they have inadequate number of personnel. The LGU was advised by Dayrit to also look into the possibility of tapping private organizations to assist them in establishing testing facilities since the current turnaround time for tests takes at least a week.

Improving capacities to overcome threats

Testing for the Caraga Region is done in Davao City. Department of Health regional director Dr. Jose Llacuna Jr. said he has asked the DOH national office to accredit the Caraga Regional Hospital and Butuan Medical Center as test centers to minimize the turnaround time.

Llacuna also said the Regional Task Force for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (RTF COVID-19) One Caraga Shield had been laying out plans for the region’s shift to the general community quarantine (GCQ).

Cane then said they will be procuring more PPE sets, as well as ventilators. He also said they will continue giving support for provincial surveillance team, establishing risk communication and hazard contingency plan, capacitating all levels on disaster resiliency and management, establishing additional isolation facilities, establishing COVID test lab and more ICU beds, and strengthening psychosocial support for patients, the patients’ families, and front-liners.

As the province braces itself for possible new waves of the infection, its people can take comfort in their health leaders’ decisiveness, and ability to adapt and collaborate. As Momville said, “Every day is learning by doing. We learn what needs to be done better. We become better persons. We are not ready in many ways, but we are doing our best. It’s bringing out the best in us.”

The discussion with the Agusan de Sur health leadership team was held last April 30. This executive session is part of ZFF’s efforts to help its partner-provinces effectively manage the COVID-19.