Focus on the medicine, not the vaccine

Focus on the medicine, not the vaccine

Column: Onsite by Ed Cordevilla

Covid-19 is showing the whole world how stupid we are — fixated on statistics and the hope for a vaccine — when we should be focused more on the medicines needed so nobody dies. The medicines are available, already there, that all we need to do is procure, purchase or import them. It’s something we should have done a long time ago.

The government has implemented the necessary restrictions: quarantine and lockdowns with varying names and were all for nothing because no massive testing was conducted during the time, and where, during said time, Mr. Francisco Duque’s attention was targeted on crushing the reliability of rapid testing kits that, were they widely distributed and used then, could have prevented this current deluge of people contracting the disease even after relentless quarantines and lockdowns. The rapid test kits could have been done on site with results in 15 minutes, and those who were tested positive could have been immediately isolated with contact tracing mapped out and where the patient found positive can be conducted the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test. If the same patient checks negative after the RT-PCR test, then it was a false positive and the proper procedures were done in the effort of preventing the spread of the disease. If that same patient tested positive, then at least the isolation was already in place, protecting him or her from further spreading the disease to his or her family and community.

That was the scenario everybody was expecting but did not take place. Instead, while Mr. Duque promotes the RT-PCR as the only acceptable test that provides 99.9% of true results, local government units (LGUs) were warned even from procuring their own rapid testing kits that they could distribute to their constituents, went on to declare on national television that the Philippines was already experiencing Stage 2 of the pandemic with statistics showing a flattening curve when no massive test was even administered, at least by the DOH.

For South Korea and Taiwan to be able to declare a flattening curve was because they conducted massive testing and have carried on measures they learned from their experiences with similar and earlier viral infections, SARS or MERS. We have not even heard anymore about the two Chinese tourists from Wuhan who went to Cebu after their deaths were reported.

At the start, only the Department of Health (DOH) and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) have the laboratories that can handle the RT-PCR test, and with the RT-PCR test being too costly compared to the rapid test kits that sell at a fraction. How did the Covid-19 testing centers record licensed by the DOH fare? What were their findings?

With faulty statistics results and lack of coordination among government institutions as to what should be prescribed while the lockdown was going on, the government decided to ease the restrictions: some workers went back to work, utility vehicles were back on the streets, some establishments opened; but more and more persons got infected.

It was then the DOH instructed employers to take charge of carrying out rapid tests to incoming employees before settling in. That’s when the surprise came. Most had been tested positive and never knew why, or might have known but were not willing to share or had a hard time mapping out a trace of who they were with for the past 10 to 14 days.

The number of infected individuals rose and continues to rise. The RT-PCR test kits that the University of the Philippines promised to provide were not approved until lately.

Looking back now, during the lockdown and quarantine, would it have been better if Mr. Duque used his energy and DOH’s resources in going house-to-house checking temperatures, identifying Covid-19 infected suspects, isolating them and retaking their temperature, and then subjecting them to (RT-PCR) testing? But no, Mr. Duque and his minions used their energies in closing down the 40-year-old Fabunan clinic in Zambales, discrediting the latter’s medicine cocktail and made the accreditation for the various brands of rapid test kit and RT-PCR laboratories hell for the applicants. I don’t need to compare the current situation in the country with other countries because everybody knows that Mr. Duque sucks. I’m not even calling for his resignation. He can stay as the DOH secretary all he wants, including the members of the syndicate at the PhilHealth. They can all stay in their respective posts.

It’s a Philippine reality, you know. In this country, when you steal P5,000 or a small box of baby’s milk, you are a thief; but if you steal in millions and billions, then you are god. The same way with illegal drugs. If you are caught selling a sachet of shabu, you are jailed without bail; but if you sell in kilos and tons and earn billions from that illegal enterprise, you don’t even need to post bail, people will come up with something to set you free, despite reclusion perpetua.

Someone I admire said “to live without honor is to be worse than dead.”

So now, how do we really focus on saving lives? How do we identify the right medicines that can help heal Covid-19 patients. What do we need to do to get them in this country and make them available to everyone? Shouldn’t that be where all our energies are aimed at?

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