Exactly 100 days have passed since the first confirmed COVID-19 case was announced in the Philippines on 30 January 2020, with a 38-year old female from Wuhan testing positive for the novel coronavirus. On the same day, on the other side of the world at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, WHO activated the highest level of alert by declaring COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern.
The Philippine government mounted a multi-sectoral response to the COVID-19, through the Interagency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases chaired by the Department of Health (DOH). Through the National Action Plan (NAP) on COVID-19, the government aims to contain the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate its socioeconomic impacts.
The Philippines implemented various actions including a community quarantine in Metro Manila which expanded to Luzon as well as other parts of the country; expanded its testing capacity from one national reference laboratory with the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) to 23 licensed testing labs across the country; worked towards ensuring that its health care system can handle surge capacity, including for financing of services and management of cases needing isolation, quarantine and hospitalization; and addressed the social and economic impact to the community including by providing social amelioration to low income families.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working with Ministries of Health worldwide to prepare and respond to COVID-19. In the Philippines, WHO country office in the Philippines and its partners have been working with the Department of Health and subnational authorities to respond to the pandemic. The country level response is done with support from the WHO regional office and headquarters.
Surveillance is a critical component and is used to detect cases of COVID-19 as well as to understand the disease dynamics and trends and identify hotspots of disease transmission. The Department of Health included COVID-19 in the list of nationally notifiable diseases early in the outbreak to ensure that information was being collected to guide appropriate response actions. Existing surveillance systems were capitalized upon to speed up identification of cases as well as identify unusual clusters. Laboratory confirmation is a critical component of the surveillance system but cannot be the only sources of information. The non-specific symptoms and the novel nature of the disease means that the DOH, with support from WHO, are looking at all available information sources to guide response decision making. WHO also provided technical assistance to selected local government units to strengthen field surveillance for timely data for action at the local level.
Contact tracing is crucial to the response. It is a system to detect and isolate cases and identify close contacts who will be advised for quarantine. It allows the investigation the system to tracjk the chain of infections as well as the settings, places, events or other avenues that where transmission have occurred or may have been amplified. A major bottleneck to doing this is the availability of timely and complete information from the hospitals for suspected, probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases. WHO assisted the DOH Epidemiology Bureau in developing COVID KAYA, a case and contact tracing reporting system for epidemiology and surveillance officers, health care providers and laboratory-based users, expanding the capacity of the previous COVID-19 information system. WHO also continued to support the government to establish the system and improve capacity for contact tracing at the city and municipal levels.