COVID-19

[OPINION] Alongside grieving the death of my brother from COVID-19 is a call for government accountability

Claire Padilla
[OPINION] Alongside grieving the death of my brother from COVID-19 is a call for government accountability
'My brother's death due to COVID-19, just like the deaths of over 33,000 other Filipinos, underscores the failure of this government to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic'

My 58-year old brother, Dodjie Padilla, died last August 28 due to complications from COVID-19. My brother’s death due to COVID-19, just like the deaths of over 33,000 other Filipinos, underscores the failure of this government to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic.

My brother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that has been found by some researchers to increase risk of severe COVID-19 infection and yet his comorbidity was not listed as one of the priority comorbidities under A3. This policy led to confusion on when he will be vaccinated together with the rest of other A3 people with comorbidities as vaccine coordinators mistakenly considered them as A4. Ironically, Tocilizumab used to treat rheumatoid arthritis is one of the standard drugs used for severe COVID-19. Clearly, the disjunct in the health policy is glaringly apparent.

Many things need to be changed and addressed urgently. All of us are at risk. As of end of August, the WHO Western Pacific Region has placed the Philippines with the highest number of new COVID-19 cases and highest deaths surpassing Malaysia and over 20 other countries in the region.

Third booster shot needed for A1-A3 by October

By October, the A1-A3 population need the third booster shot. Whether you got Sinovac or Pfizer, evidence from other countries show that the efficacy wanes on the 6th month.

With A1 health workers inoculated with their 2nd shot in April 2021, they would be due for their third booster shot by October. With A2 and A3 inoculated with their 2nd shot in April or May, they would be due for their third booster shot in October or November. As an A3 myself, I am due for my third booster shot by November. Where I will get my third booster shot is unclear.

The very same reasons why the A1 to A3 were prioritized would hold true by the time their third booster shot is due. This means that starting October the risk of infection of A1 would be higher than unvaccinated A4 and the general population and the risk of mortality for A2 and A3 would be higher than the unvaccinated A4 and the general population.

This simply means that the Philippine government must ensure procurement of third booster vaccines in time for October onwards at the same time providing vaccines for the unvaccinated. The so-called equity argument being posed by the DOH would not hold by October. And every single day and minute of delay by the national government in ensuring access to vaccines for all increases our risks of infection and death, most especially with the more infectious Delta variant and succeeding variants of concern that are bound to pose problems unless the Philippine government gets its act together.

All person with comorbidities should be inoculated at the same time without any priority group

I propose that all persons with comorbidities be inoculated at the same time. This means no priority will be given to certain conditions because this led to the exclusion of those with other comorbidities with increasing evidence of high COVID-19 mortality such as rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

In the States, all medical conditions were considered as comorbidities, hence, they were all vaccinated at the same time. In Israel, they started inoculating the third booster shot to all persons above 40 years old shortly after the seniors got their third booster shot.

Faster vaccine approval by the FDA

In a pandemic, it is crucial and prudent for the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to align its vaccine approval with existing regulatory approvals of other FDAs that have underwent clinical trials and thereafter approved vaccines and the use of booster vaccines.

It would place the lives of millions of Filipinos at risk if the Philippines will undergo its own Philippine clinical trials. There is no need for such Philippine-based clinical trials. Such delay will cost the lives of many of us, placing all us at risk.

The obvious free testing, efficient contact tracing, availability of PCR machines and biosafety labs and even GeneExpert, adequate hospital and ICU facilities, and efficient border controls to prevent new variants of concern are all important to quell this pandemic apart from the standard health protocols of continued mask wearing, social distancing and granular lockdowns at the very least.

Factors contributing to the Philippine government’s pandemic response cannot be overlooked

The Philippine government queued late to purchase COVID-19 vaccines

While other countries already started vaccinating their population as early as November 2020, the Philippines had to contend with mostly vaccine donations slowly trickling out around March.

This slow and delayed vaccine rollout is even hindered by the tripartite process that needs the government to sign onto any vaccine purchase when time is crucial in providing wide access to vaccines to Filipinos.

Vaccine rollout was also mainly delegated to LGUs

The national government should be actively vaccinating and not merely rely on local government units (LGUs). For instance, the national government can task the Bureau of Quarantine, MMDA, Office of Civil Defense, PNP and army health personnel, among others, to inoculate.

Antigen and swab tests

Antigen and swab tests are not free in most areas in the Philippines save for certain LGUs that provide such tests for free. Results of RT-PCR swab tests can take 5 days or longer meanwhile some people already died before their results came out.

Contact tracing on the national government scale is lacking.

Do you know of a national government hotline number for contact tracing? Beats me.

I do not know any despite my efforts to search for one.

Have you known COVID-19 positive people whose close contacts were not tested or people who have died and no contact tracing was done to search their close contacts? I have many times over.

Lack of clear protocols

Do you see the faces of politicians being interviewed about their plans to run or not – or the president running as vice president – more often than news about national government protocols on steps to be taken by positive people and their close contacts?

Steps such as where to access free antigen/swab tests and making these tests available every day and 24 hours a day; to get a simple x-ray when you suspect infection with COVID-19m including when you experience a sore throat, cough or fever. And when the x-ray shows pneumonia, to take prescription antibiotics which usually takes a week for mild cases; to take vitamin c with zinc and perhaps even virgin coconut oil once symptoms first appear.

How about simply telling people that COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia and that oxygen support is basic and oxygen levels can go dangerously low with COVID-19, hence, seeking immediate medical care is important and not to wait for your oxygen level to go below 95?

Sending wrong messages

When you have national government officials saying there’s no community transmissions, be afraid because the variant of concern is a ticking timebomb that will explode anytime like what we saw during the first surge and this Delta variant surge.

Availability of medicines and health coverage issues

It is gravely concerning that there is already a lack of supply of Tocilizumab even at NKTI.

In our experience, we were told by the hospital that medicines such as Remdicivir and Tocilizumab and even the hemoperfusion procedure were not covered by PhilHealth.

If you are cash-strapped, it would pain any member of the family who would be unable to shoulder such medical expenses.

Health care workers’ inadequate pay, the non-payment of benefits, and delayed PhilHealth reimbursements

The inadequate pay of health care workers and the non-payment of their Special Risk Allowance until now clearly has taken its toll on the morale of our health care workers and has led to many of them resigning.

Add the delayed PhilHealth reimbursement to hospitals and the investigation on billions worth of costly PPEs and DOH-DBM transactions, and the Philippine health system is truly in crisis with the Philippine population as sitting ducks.

Budgetary allocations

We all know about the government funds devoted to Dolemite Beach. Now a hefty budget is being eyed to set up a memorial for health workers when their very basic pay and benefits have not been addressed.

It is deeply bothersome as well that the draft 2022 General Appropriation Acts does not allocate a budget for vaccine purchase. And how about the budget for vaccinators?

Governance

When you have a government official who wants to slap the COVID-19 virus, seems to be more concerned with his critics and their hairstyle, body shape and underwear, our future becomes grimmer and grimmer.

I am writing this while grieving the death of my brother.

In his memory and all the lives lost to COVID-19, I am calling for government accountability on the ineffective national government response to the pandemic. I hope too that my fellow Filipino citizens learn their lesson that choosing your government officials is a life and death issue. – Rappler.com

Clara Rita “Claire” Padilla is the founder and executive director of EnGendeRights. She has been practicing law for over 27 years and is known in the Philippines and internationally, working in the fields of gender and diverse sexual orientation, gender identities and expression.

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