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Communities, not hospitals should be first line of defense vs. COVID-19 — public health expert

With the rising number of cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines, a public health expert said it is up to communities and not the hospitals to stop the spread of the virus.

In a Facebook post, Lei Camiling-Alfonso, a former doctor to the barrio, said this is the time for communities to step up by staying at home and limiting contact.

“First line of defense should be communities that [will help] stop the virus from spreading. ‘Wag nang papasukin ang kalaban,” she said.

The doctor reminded everyone that "they have their community health system and [for them to] trust it." 

Alfonso, who is a specialist in health systems, management, and policy, put out a very insightful scenario in her post Sunday morning:

To stop 50 patients from coming to the hospital in a day, I only need to station one doctor who can screen mild cases in the community and assure people.

According to Alfonso, in the fight against diseases like COVID-19, hospitals are just "one of the many different fronts of the fight."

"[The] frontline is not the hospital," she said. "We need to protect our hospitals [because] in a disaster, it should be the last one standing."

She lamented that in our situation, “we have left our hospitals vulnerable." 

Several hospitals in Metro Manila have been feeling the weight and urgency of COVID-19. Just on Saturday, Dr. Aileen Baviera, an international relations scholar who got infected in the line of duty, died of pneumonia caused by COVID-19

The Philippine Heart Association also confirmed the death of a young doctor due to the disease Saturday, while 144 health workers in The Medical City are on quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. 

 "Media focusing on big hospitals in the city, testing kits running out, and chaos, does not comfort," she added.

Aflonso urged people to pay attention to the rural health units, whose heroic efforts are often overlooked. 

"The heroic efforts of municipal health officers and regional health units are not recognized as they should be!" she continued.

Alfonso hopes everyone will do their part to protect their community against COVID-19.

“Unless people have social safety nets, people will keep moving. Other sectors should get acts together,” she said.

“Simple lang ang pangangailangan ng ating mga kababayan: pag-asa at pagkain sa araw araw,” she added.

Among the organizations that Alfonso has in her credentials include Alliance for Improving Health Outcomes, Public Health Society of the Philippines, Public Health Communication Advisory Network, and coctor to the barrio.

The Department of Health on Sunday confirmed 73 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 380. From 19 deaths, the fatality record rose to 35.

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country is now able to conduct almost 1,000 tests for the virus after several sub-national laboratories became operational.

So far, a total of 15 patients have recovered from the virus. — LA, GMA News