A display of strong leadership and governance that unified the community led to the successful containment of COVID-19 in three provinces.
Former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said that while the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Aklan, and Bataan had very distinct profiles, they all had governors that manifested the same kind of “unifying leadership” and had set in place a functional and “inclusive governance” structure to effectively manage the pandemic.
During the recent online forum “Provincial Initiatives to Mitigate COVID-19 Risks,” three governors, under a health leadership and governance program since 2016 of event organizer Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF), presented the challenges they faced at the start of the pandemic and the actions they have taken to overcome them.
Agusan del Sur Gov. Santiago Cane Jr., who allotted P514 million to their response primarily for their frontliners and social amelioration support programs, said being immersed in the plight of his poor constituents clarified his priorities.
Under ZFF’s program, governors are made to undergo a “deep dive.” With its resources, regular medical services continued, frontliners were provided psychosocial and mental wellness support, and households were given food.
Financial assistance was extended not only to Agusan’s city and municipalities, but also to its students and overseas Filipino workers stranded across the country.
Agusan del Sur was kept COVID-free until it was placed under general community quarantine and returnees entered, bringing positive COVID-19 cases to 16 as of end-June.
As a landlocked province, it continues to fortify its borders with plans to build a new and better holding area complete with laboratory capacity, an isolation facility, and housing for front-liners.
Aklan -- tagged a hotspot because of direct flights from Wuhan, China -- was quick to strengthen its
Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERT) to trace cases.
Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores said this was possible because ZFF’s program helped them establish a provincial health board that had municipal mayors and health officers onboard prior to COVID-19, so an integrated effort was immediately possible.
All 11 COVID-19 cumulative cases as of end-June in Aklan were either returning OFWs or residents. Ten of these have since recovered.
The province is prepared to open to more Boracay visitors with its contactless health and safety protocols and improved hospital capacities. More importantly, its people know what needs to be done.
Aklan is set to open its own testing facility. ZFF, which has donated personal protective equipment sets and ventilators to all provinces, will also be giving PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machines.
With its proximity to Metro Manila, Bataan had the most cases among the three provinces. Worse, 55 health workers in its apex hospital, Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC), got infected with COVID-19 in April.
Governor Albert Garcia quickly mobilized resources and partners to build health and isolation facilities.
BGHMC and Mariveles District Hospital became exclusive for COVID patients, while a BGHMC Annex was set up in the old provincial building to serve non-COVID cases. It has a testing facility capable of conducting 300 tests a day, with another testing facility to be set up in Mariveles.
Prior to COVID, Garcia acknowledged ZFF’s contribution in heightening their understanding of the health system, allowing them to respond better.
“Our added knowledge because of our partnership helped us to cope better with the pandemic,” Garcia said.
From a projected 500 to 2,000 cases by June, Bataan has contained the cases to 185 by end-June.
Bataan continues to build its health capacities, especially as the province restarts business activities and welcomes back thousands of workers in its different economic zones.
The online forum, held on June 30, is ZFF’s series of learning sessions to share knowledge gained from the experiences of its partner local government units under its different health leadership and governance interventions. For more on the forum, check ZFF’s official Facebook page for a recording of the discussions.