In the line of fire…

By Reyshimar Arguelles

Health experts in the country warn that the war against CoViD-19 would drag on despite an increase in the number of tests the past week. We have barely reached the peak and local governments are scrambling to “flatten the curve” and prevent the disease from overrunning hospitals stretched thin by a lack of diagnostic and protective equipment.

Iloilo City is in good hands at the very least. Mayor Jerry Treñas has mobilized what resources his administration has to support the frontlines against the pandemic. From 3D-printed face masks to community kitchens, the city has fared well in its response to the crisis. But despite these devices, the mayor has expressed frustration with the sluggish delivery of national aid.

Last week, the Duterte administration signed the Bayanihan We Heal As One Act which initially sought to allot over P275 billion to help cushion the economic impact of the CoViD-19 crisis on the most vulnerable. On Monday, Duterte gave his first weekly report on the government’s measures saying that it will prepare P200 billion in special purpose funds to initiate the “largest, widest protection program” in the country’s history.

Clearly, this unprecedented program has not taken off yet as Treñas continues to demand for aid in anticipation of things to come. We have seen what the virus has done in Spain and Italy, and Treñas couldn’t simply afford to waste time waiting for test kits, personal protective equipment, and social assistance from the national government. We simply cannot wait until hospitals in the city are overrun by the infected, costing the lives of patients and doctors.

Indeed, there is no other situation where the phrase “time is of the essence” applies than this worldwide crisis that has opened our eyes to the importance of a sturdy healthcare system. In hindsight, we should have expected a pandemic like this to occur and capacitated our hospitals with the infrastructure they need to save lives.

Sadly, the state of healthcare in the Philippines is nothing short of decrepit. With its fragmented governance structure, improvements to local healthcare systems were to meet their targets. A 2018 report by the Asia Pacific Observatory on Health Systems and Policies noted that “the devolution and inadequate transfer from the National Government to poorer LGUs contributed to underfunding of local hospitals and health units, resulting in poorly equipped facilities and an inadequate complement of human resources.”

On top of that, the country is struggling to keep its talented health workers from migrating as “the main push factors in the country were not solved in the light of attractive pull factors.”

Being as it may, we are still lucky that we have a committed local workforce currently tackling a global health crisis. We are lucky because we still have doctors, nurses, and medical technologists who are risking their lives to save others despite suffering from a lack of institutional support. It is only disappointing that, as far as it goes, the kind of support needed by our frontliners has put them at a very vulnerable position.

We can clap, sing, and post creative “thank you” messages for frontliners, but more has to be done to secure their lives. We have already lost 17 doctors to CoViD-19, but the government only managed to call these losses as instances of heroism instead of regard then for what they are — avoidable deaths. That Duterte has the gall to call them (in the most disaffected manner) “lucky” is uninspiring and disturbing. Like Pilate, the government has effectively washed its hands clean of any responsibility.

On a lighter note though, Treñas has called on donations for PPEs and other equipment to help local frontliners fight the contagion. Because at the rate the national government is going, we couldn’t risk putting more of our talented medical workers in the line of fire.