PH Red Cross keeps widening role in pandemic response
MANILA, Philippines — Today, 192 national societies across the globe mark World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, with Filipinos sharing in the celebration and renewal of commitment to make the world a safer, more peaceful place.
Now in its 74th year, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) continues to fulfill its mandate as auxiliary to the government in alleviating the suffering and uplifting the dignity of the most vulnerable. Through its volunteers, logistics, and information technology, the PRC has always been there to respond to disasters or emergencies, including the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the PRC’s major operations over the past few years were for the victims of the Mindanao earthquakes and Taal Volcano eruption (2020), Typhoons “Tisoy” and “Ursula” (2019), and “Ompong” (2018), and the Marawi siege (2017).
The Taal disaster saw the PRC deploying its upgraded logistics consisting of a rescue truck, a tactical vehicle, four water tankers, nine ambulances, and four hot meal vans to serve 5,300 families in 79 evacuation centers in Batangas. Aside from nonfood items (masks, tarpaulin sheets, mosquito nets, hygiene kits, and tents), it also provided psychological first aid for children and helped locate lost persons.
First COVID actions
It was around this time that news of a deadly virus in Wuhan, China, started to set off alarms worldwide. The PRC’s initial response was to source surgical masks and personal protective equipment and distribute these to the health workers, returning travelers, and other sectors deemed at risk.
Drawing lessons from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, PRC chair Richard Gordon started to look at locally available resources and saw the need for testing as a pressing concern. All the country had back then were the manual testing machines of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
A study of the testing process in China helped PRC choose the protocol that was the most appropriate, and the equipment, facilities, and manpower required.
Using chartered planes, the PRC got busy procuring and transporting needed materials in a lockdown scenario where commercial flights were restricted.
Within 10 days, it was able to build its first COVID-19 laboratory. Medical technologists from PRC’s blood centers were trained and their operating protocol developed. Inaugurated on April 14, the lab served as the country’s first automated RT-PCR testing facility.
By November, just over six months later, the PRC had performed a million COVID-19 tests. By the end of 2020, with 12 more molecular labs set up in Metro Manila, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, it had accounted for about 25 percent of all tests done nationwide.
Gordon moved to have the testing further “democratized” and made more affordable. With the help of scientists from the University of Illinois and the University of the Philippines, the PRC introduced saliva RT-PCR testing, a cheaper, less invasive but still effective alternative to oro and naso pharyngeal swabbing.
The PRC has since widened the range of its COVID-19 responses, including the establishment of the 1158 hotline, provision of negative pressure ambulance services, cash grants, food packs, hot meals, hygiene kits, water, hand-washing facilities, and psychosocial support. In 2020 alone, it set up 72 medical tents to support hospitals and isolation facilities, catering to more than 24,000 patients as of this writing.
The PRC’s vaccination drive for other diseases—mainly measles-rubella and polio—went uninterrupted, reaching over a million children in a year, despite the two typhoons—“Rolly” and “Ulysses’’—that hit the country in the last quarter of 2020. In the aftermath of ‘’Rolly’’ in Bicol, the PRC vessel MV Amazing Grace delivered to Catanduanes not only relief items but livelihood, cash assistance, shelter repair assistance, and psychosocial support.
Back in Luzon for the pandemic response, the PRC has built the first emergency field hospital in the Lung Center of the Philippines compound with 18 tents.
It also recently set up isolation facilities in partner schools—Ateneo de Manila, University of the Philippines, De La Salle University College of Saint Benilde, and Adamson University—to help the health-care system cope with the surge in COVID-19 cases.
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