ZFF and Bataan LGU join hands in COVID-19 fight

Outside Metro Manila, Bataan is among the provinces with rising cases of COVID-19. Before the Luzon-wide lockdown, it recorded only one confirmed case. As of April 24, there were 77 cases. More worrisome is the 55 COVID-19 cases among health workers of the Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC), a Department of Health-run facility.

Being a partner-province of the Zuellig Family Foundation, a virtual executive session for the governor and his health team was facilitated by ZFF to help analyze Bataan’s situation and recommend ways forward.

A resource person during this coaching was UP Response Team member Dr. Jomar Rabajante, who said that based on the trend in the province, interventions have been effective in slowing down the virus.

Some of these interventions are intensified information campaign using different platforms, contact tracing, free transportation services for health workers, training by the BGHMC of health personnel and inter-agency task force on infection control and prevention measures, scheduled public market operations, and heightened surveillance.

But Rabajante cautioned the province from being complacent. It should, according to Rabajante, intensify its detection, tracing, and testing capacities especially in the identified hotspot areas or those localities with high number of positive COVID-19 cases such as Balanga, Orani Orion, Samal, and Limay.

He highlighted the importance of preparing for worst case scenarios. He said that, if the ECQ is lifted after April 30, the peak of infection in the province may happen sometime in the first week of May. In that case, the province would require facilities and equipment beyond the present capacity of Bataan hospitals.

Given this probability, Bataan Governor Albert Garcia plans to develop a real-time monitoring system to get ahead of the problem, while adding, “We need health experts to guide us. I’d like to ask for hand-holding partnership to be ahead of the problem before it gets bigger.”

Public-private partnership for COVID-19 containment

To contain COVID-19 cases in BGHMC, the province signed a formal agreement with the DOH Central Luzon office/BGHMC, and the private hospital Centro Medico de Santisimo Rosario for the private hospital to treat emergency medical services after the closure of BGHMC’s out-patient department. The provincial government shoulders indigent residents’ expenses as BGHMC becomes exclusive to COVID-19 cases.

Aside from Centro Medico, patients needing elective surgeries, direct consultations, and other health needs not related to COVID-19 can go to the district hospitals.

ICTs for COVID-19 Response

As a step to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19, the province also intends to maximize all available information and communication technologies (ICTs). “This COVID-19 crisis made us realize so many things, and most of it are hard lessons. It made us realize the inefficiencies of our health system, fragmented layers of government, and even disoriented communication,” Garcia admitted.

ZFF Trustee Dr. Manuel Dayrit said everybody has to be on the same page so the LGU must do granular strategies in conducting risk assessments, which means, according to Dayrit, risk assessment must be done at different levels: individual, household, barangay, municipal, and provincial. Doing so would enable the LGU to make more precise plans and manage resources based on the priority needs of each level.

In response, Garcia shared their plan of setting up a call hub that will serve as a health command center. This command center will then be the central repository of all data related to COVID-19 cases within the jurisdiction of Bataan. It will enable faster detection and isolation of probable cases and consequently, speed up actions from the local health leadership.

Not just health response but employment as well

In addition, Bataan is also looking into the efficiency of texting mechanism to gather data from households and even hospitals. According to Garcia, texting might be a great platform since there are 170,000-180,000 cellphone users in Bataan. It can be an opportunity to reach many people about preventive measures and as a means to monitor the well-being of household members.

The LGU is also eyeing to maximize the presence of social media by setting up chatbots since majority of the population own social media accounts and it offers faster reply mechanisms. It will also give the people more options to send out their concerns given the limitations of short messaging service (SMS) or text.

This system will also provide employment as it requires manpower who will be responsible for collecting data from the callers and processing gathered data into comprehensible information. Likewise, data collected will enable the local chief executives to see if initiatives are flattening the curve and to plan their next actions. The executive session was held last April 21 is part of ZFF’s efforts to assist its partner provinces in responding to the threats of COVID-19.