Philippines ill-prepared for COVID-19, report says

Despite an early response to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the Philippines continues to face a skyrocketing case, which has reached more than 1.3 million cases in total as of June 15, 2021.

Study: Rapid response to COVID-19 in the Philippines. Image Credit: aldarinho /

Researchers from the College of Medicine at the University of the Philippines in Manila, along with collaborators from the Faculty of Medicine and Public Health at Ateneo de Manila University, described the challenges and the Philippines’ early response to COVID-19 . To that end, researchers focused on travel restrictions, community interventions, risk communication and testing between January 30, 2020, when the first case in the country was reported, and March 21, 2020. .

In this peer-reviewed study, published in the World Health Organization (WHO) report Western Pacific Surveillance and Response Journal (WPSAR), the authors discuss surveillance and response to public health events in the Western Pacific Region. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that the Philippines’ initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic lacked organizational preparedness.

Public health emergencies in the Philippines

As a developing country, the Philippines has seen some improvements in their health care system over the past decade. Despite this, the country continues to face various challenges in its response to public health emergencies.

The Philippines is estimated to have about 10 hospital beds and six doctors per 10,000 population, which together represents only 2,335 critical beds nationwide. Primarily, the available health resources are concentrated in urban areas, while rural areas experience a lack of available doctors. In these rural areas, only one doctor is available for a population of 20,000 people, with only one bed available for a population of 1,000 people.

Although community health centers and local health workers make up the country’s primary health care system, they often lack resources and limited surge capacity. Also, while the local government has disaster preparedness plans, these plans are designed for natural disasters, which the country often experiences, rather than epidemics.

Travel restrictions

The first case of COVID-19 in the Philippines was reported on January 30, 2020. In March, the number of cases increased dramatically, prompting the government to place the northern part of the country, Luzon, in enhanced community quarantine (ECQ ) or in confinement. before March 15.

The Philippine government put travel restrictions in place as early as January 28, 2020. While this prevented the spread of the virus, travelers from areas that were not on the restricted country list were not subject to restrictions. strict testing and quarantine protocols. Meanwhile, those in restricted countries have been subjected to a 14-day quarantine, testing and contact tracing.

In the first few weeks after these restrictions were put in place, the spread of COVID-19 was delayed. However, over time, COVID-19 cases started to increase due to viral transmission within communities, especially from people who had no travel history.

Community interventions

When the lockdown or ECQ was implemented in Luzon, which included Metro Manila, families were placed in strict home quarantine. This quarantine consisted of a strict home quarantine in all households, except for cases where individuals needed to acquire essential food and health services.

Additional measures that were implemented during this period included work-at-home programs, suspension of distance education and classes, the closure of public transport and non-essential business establishments, as well as physical distancing. and the ban on public gatherings.

These measures have succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus; however, it was difficult for the government to enforce these restrictions for long periods of time because of their severe economic repercussions.

Although the lockdown order only affected the island of Luzon, health systems were not overwhelmed. In fact, the quarantine regulations have given the Philippines the opportunity to mobilize resources and organize their response to the pandemic.

Risk communication

During the lockdown, the Philippine government ensured that all plans and information on the COVID-19 pandemic were distributed to all residents and citizens. The government has also strengthened its national risk communication plans through press briefings, internet advertisements, health-related TV commercials and social media infographics.

Despite these efforts, disinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 have emerged in the Philippines.


Many countries that have successfully contained the COVID-19 pandemic have implemented large-scale testing. Although testing is critical to controlling the pandemic, the Philippines has only conducted small-scale COVID-19 testing. Specifically, the authors of this article found that as of March 19, 2020, fewer than 1,200 people in this country had been tested for COVID-19, with the Metro Manila Tropical Medicine Research Institute being the only one. institution capable of performing these tests. Due to the limited capacity of the healthcare system to perform mass testing, the Department of Health (DOH) has recommended rationed testing, in which strict protocols have been implemented.

Studying takeaways

The authors of the present study concluded that the Philippines was not ready for a pandemic. The disease surveillance system could perform contact tracing and, for several months at the start of the pandemic, only one laboratory was available for COVID-19 testing. Additionally, the primary health care system did not serve as a main line of defense, leading infected people to flock to city hospitals, overwhelming the health system and critical care capacity.

“The lack of preparedness for the pandemic had left the country poorly defended against the new virus and its devastating effects. Invest diligently and consistently in pandemic preparedness. “

Overall, the researchers noted that the lack of preparedness for a pandemic had left the Philippines poorly protected from the effects of SARS-CoV-2. So the pandemic has taught the Philippines, as well as many other countries around the world, that increasing its investment in modernizing hospitals and clinics is crucial to protecting its citizens from epidemics in the future. This investment should also be accompanied by the development of adequate monitoring, testing and contact tracing services.

About Hector Hedgepeth

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