The continuing increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, with severe threats to health and safety and severe economic disruption, has led to several challenges now confronted by Filipinos across the nation.
According to the country’s Department of Health (DOH), a total of 2,522,965 cases have been confirmed and 37,686 deaths have been recorded as of September 29. In its latest report, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the Philippines ranks second highest in cases and deaths among the countries within the region.
“ADRA is implementing a response program to COVID-19,” Tom Pignon, ADRA’s country director in the Philippines, said. “From September 1, 2021 to May 1, 2022, we will focus on Matanao, Davao del Sur, and the whole island of Mindanao. ADRA will continue its collaboration with the Seventh-day Adventist Church and build partnerships with new communities in four areas.”
“In spite of the economy reopening, millions remain unemployed,” Pignon said. “The internally displaced people (IDP) in Mindanao have challenging housing situations and difficulty accessing decent income opportunities.”
“The majority of these laborers are essentially on a ‘no work, no pay’ scheme,” Pignon added. “Many farmers have found it difficult to market their products since most food establishments closed and the number of consumers significantly decreased.”
To support the livelihood activities of this highly vulnerable group, ADRA will focus on building the capacity of 300 community members on vegetable farming and goat raising. To ensure sustainability, ADRA will integrate a savings mechanism that has been working well in other ADRA projects to improve the financial literacy of the beneficiaries and help meet their household needs.
The pandemic also caused significant challenges and threats to the medical workers on the front lines, and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has posed a critical challenge. Health workers have the highest risk of exposure to the virus as they work in hospitals to diagnose and treat COVID-19, according to the Department of Health (DOH). Since the pandemic began, 103 health workers have died of the disease caused by virus. Recently, ADRA provided surgical masks, face shields, alcohol, and disinfectants to 17 health facilities across the Philippines.
Psychological first aid
The number of Filipinos seeking psychological first aid (PFA) has additionally increased during the pandemic. Benard Argamosa, the program director of the National Center for Mental Health, shared that the number of people seeking consultation through its crisis hotline has tripled due to COVID-19. Most callers expressed experiencing sadness, nervousness, and anxiety. In ADRA’s recent assessment in Davao del Sur, the government frontline workers have identified their need for psychosocial support.
Recently, ADRA has provided psychological first aid (PFA) services to the medical front-liners and vulnerable communities through the Stronger Together and EMBRACE COVID-19 Projects across the Philippines. To help promote the psychological well-being of the people of Mindanao, ADRA intends to build the capacity of local volunteers in conducting PFA and making referrals to appropriate health authorities.
Although the Philippine government has required all Filipinos to wear face masks or other forms of facial protective gear when leaving their homes, there are still many community members and remote villagers that don’t follow these policies. False information has kept the public unclear on the basic aspects of COVID-19, such as modes of transmission, the range of symptoms (predominantly asymptomatic cases), and the nature of testing, hospitalizations, and treatments.
Vaccine acceptance has gone up in the Philippines in recent months, but hesitancy remains a factor for a significant portion of the population, according to a recent preliminary survey by researchers at the University of Santo Tomas published on medRxiv on September 15. Results showed that 62 percent of respondents would take the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available. In other surveys, those who were unwilling to be vaccinated against COVID-19 expressed concerns regarding safety, vaccine brand, and fear of the effects of the vaccine.
“Clear and transparent communications on all aspects of COVID-19 would help build public trust in vaccine safety and efficacy,” Pignon said. “ADRA continues to promote awareness through the use of radio programming, social media, and printed IEC materials. In the future, ADRA plans to include the use of television to reach a wider community.”