During the Project Culmination of IMPAACT4C19, advocacy group Innovations for Community Health, Inc. (InnovationsCH) urges the national and city governments to strengthen health education, boost vaccinations for millions who are still unvaccinated, and to continue empowering Filipinos on rapid testing and detection, and home management of COVID-19 symptoms.
Innovations for Community Health, Inc., through its funding from the Treatment Action Group (TAG), partnered with barangays towards more proactive and aggressive testing and treatment of COVID-19 for the pandemic to gradually downgrade into an endemic. Despite fully vaccinating 72.3 million Filipinos across the archipelago, there remains a considerable risk, especially for millions of unvaccinated individuals, as current medications for home management of COVID-19 are still not widely available or readily accessible in the Philippines.
InnovationsCH works with community organizations and barangay officials; they can easily reach the people. For this project, InnovationsCH worked with Mandaluyong, Manila, and Marikina Cities to address fear and stigma, advocate and increase demand for COVID-19 rapid testing, and boost vaccination by conducting seminars and training. In line with this, the group also advocated for the increased demand for integrated and bidirectional tuberculosis (TB) screening and COVID-19 testing with the help of community leaders and healthcare stakeholders at the local government level.
“Now that we’re slowly getting back on our feet, we’re also working double time in helping more Filipinos become more aware of these diseases and their prevention. With more knowledge and health-related skills, each Filipino can hold good health more firmly. We will continue working with partner organizations and the government, specifically local units, to implement various ways of addressing stigma and vaccine hesitancy, such as emphasizing the safety, effectiveness, and benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine main series and booster shots. More than two years into this global pandemic, vaccination and healthy habits like handwashing are still the best protection we have against the virus,” says Isabel Chin, Project Lead of IMPAACT4C19.
By working closely with cities and barangays, InnovationsCH was able to provide increased access to rapid antigen diagnostic tests, increase knowledge on tuberculosis and COVID-19 diagnosis and management, target misinformation leading to fear and stigma, and increase the demand for supervised and protocol-guided rapid antigen testing to quickly detect and mitigate the spread of the virus.
InnovationsCH also highlighted the need to strengthen home management of COVID-19 symptoms since medications are not yet widely available or readily accessible in the country. These are also currently strictly regulated by the government.
“We have groundbreaking findings to cure COVID-19 that are available in the country already for mild and moderate cases. We urge the regulators, the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, to increase accessibility and availability to save lives and move towards endemic for COVID-19,” Chin shared.
The World Health Organization has updated its COVID-19 treatment guidelines to include Molnupiravir, a COVID-19 medication. In the Philippines, however, supply has been limited to purchase and access through prescriptions of healthcare professionals, and physicians or hospitals/institutions granted Compassionate Special Permit (CSP) by the DOH, the national procurer for drug products under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
Another drug available is Pfizer’s Paxlovid with EUA for 12 years old and above, for those who experience mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms in the Philippines. This has shown promising results in other countries with EUA for this medication and has also lowered the hospitalization rate in other countries.
Chin added that aside from the medications, the advancements in testing and detection of COVID-19 have also boosted the detection of other comorbidities like Tuberculosis (TB). “The pandemic has reversed our progress to end TB in the country, even globally. We can detect and screen TB through the integrated bidirectional testing and screening on COVID-19 and TB, and as new infectious diseases like Monkeypox come into the country, we need to further strengthen our healthcare system to prevent another pandemic and reversals of decades in progress we’ve done in health sciences,” Chin expressed.
Although contracting COVID-19 now for most vaccinated Filipinos would mean testing positive through a rapid antigen test, home quarantine or room isolation, and treatment of mild symptoms, the end goal is to once and for all become COVID-free.