Private sector extends assistance to other hospital front liners

Nurses from the CDO Polymedic Plaza’s Hemodialysis Unit hold up PPE gowns donated by STEAG thru Ms Irene Floro & face shields from the UCCP Cagayan de Oro Church. (photo supplied)

The two government hospitals in the forefront of the battle against the COVID-19 coronavirus have been getting the bulk of assistance from the private sector, especially on critically needed medical supplies and personal protection equipment (PPEs) for their front liners.

The Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) as the only COVID-19 referral hospital in Northern Mindanao (Region X) has been getting a steady stream of assistance from the private sector.

On April 3, the Cagayan de Oro Filipino-Chinese Community delivered 250 sets of PPEs manufactured in South Korea worth P450, 000 to NMMC as the second batch of its P1-M assistance earlier committed to the hospital.

Nurses from CDO Polymedic Medical Plaza Hemodialysis Unit wave their thanks to UCCP Cagayan de Oro Church who donated these face shields. (photo supplied)

Last March 23, the same group turned over the first truckload of locally purchased supplies to NMMC worth P365,000 including 60 cartons rubbing alcohol and sanitizing gel, two units knapsack sprayer, 12 pails disinfectant solution (chlorine), safety goggles, rubber boots, protective raincoats with pants, face shields, and 50 cartons disposable water tissues/paper towels.

Meantime, the J.R.Borja General Hospital owned and managed by the city government has also been getting a steady stream of PPEs and other medical supplies from the private sector, especially the Rotary Clubs under Zone 1 Council of Presidents headed by Rosalinda Caragos.

However, some of the front liners in the city’s other private hospitals have found themselves scrambling for PPEs and other needed supplies since most donations have been going to NMMC and JRBGH.

UCCP Cagayan de Oro Church workers & volunteers making PPEs for front liners at the Licoan church compound

When nurses from the Cagayan de Oro Polymedic Medical Plaza Hemodialysis Unit found themselves short of PPEs like gowns, face masks and shields, civic minded citizens quickly stepped in to assist them.

Under the strategy adopted by the Regional and City Health offices, COVID-19 patients are exclusively referred to NMMC while JRBGH’s role is to take in as many non-COVID cases as they can accommodate to give NMMC’s personnel and facilities as much slack as possible to deal with the outbreak.

First to answer the call for assistance was the United Church of the Philippines Cagayan de Oro City Church (UCCP-CdO) where a dedicated group of church workers have been toiling daily to produce face masks, face shields and PPE gowns for front liners.

A further shipment of 500 PPEs and 100 thermal guns were received on April 3 by the city government for distribution to front liners in NMMC and JRBGH. (CIO)

Not quite a day later, Ms. Irene Floro, former Oro Chamber President and herself a registered nurse, coordinated with PCCI Area Vice President for Mindanao Ma. Teresa Alegrio to secure PPEs from STEAG State Power Inc. which were quickly turned over to the CDO Polymedic Plaza nurses.

The campaign to curb the spread of the virus was further bolstered on April 1st when the city government received the first batch of PPEs and medical supplies it earlier purchased consisting of 1,400 boxes of protective masks, 2,000 boxes gloves, and 100 gallons of alcohol.

The initial shipment has been prioritized for the use of the BHERTS [Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams] who have been conducting a house-to-house assessment of PUM residents.

A further shipment of 500 PPEs and 100 thermal guns were received on April 3 by the city government for distribution to front liners in NMMC and JRBGH. (RMB)

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Plan Regional, Act Local – Business Sector Outlines response to COVID-19 Crisis

Butuan Chamber PPEs donation to front liners

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) in Mindanao has started implementing its key strategy as mandated in the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council Economic Cluster.

“In the wake of all the community quarantines and lockdown of LGUs , I have outlined the Business sector Response to COVID -19 through the Key Strategy of Planning Regional (through the Regional Disaster Risk Mitigation and Management Council) and Acting Local through the Local Government Units (LGUs-city, province, municipality, barangay),” said Ma. Teresa R. Alegrio, PCCI Area Vice President for Mindanao.

“Our main objective is to secure our food supply chain and support initiatives to protect our healthcare personnel and front liners through the production of locally made Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs),” Alegrio stressed.

Butuan Chamber donated these face masks to their front liners.

“As the voice of the business in Mindanao, PCCI will endeavor to provide regular updates to the business community on government directives especially on logistics issues. I encourage each local chamber to provide/share news, reports, and best practices particularly on food security. I will also appreciate any inputs or possible solutions from the group,” she added.

As a complementary measure, PCCI is also coordinating with local government units (LGUs) the deployment of rolling stores for each municipality to reinforce the community quarantines and lockdowns now enforced in many localities, by distributing relief packs to individual households, especially the most vulnerable sectors in the informal economy.

Bangon Marawi Chamber of Commerce headed by President Elian Macala has partnered with the Lanao del Sur provincial government, the line agencies of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM), and some Meranaw businessmen to launch its Rolling Stores project.

SPMC Front Liners show their appreciation for face shields donated by JCI Davao Region Oplan Kaagapay & JCI Duwaling ShiledOurHeroes project thru the DCCI in Davao City.

According to a MindaNews report filed by Rosslaini Alonto, the rolling stores sell basic necessities such as rice, eggs, vegetables and spices, dried fish, cooking oil, chicken, bread, over-the counter medicines, LPG, purified water, diapers, toiletries although with limits so as to cover as many families in the municipalities who wish to avail of the products. All goods are sold at suggested retail prices.

Seven mobile stores were initially dispatched to the towns of Marantao, Taraka and Bacolod Kalawi on Monday, Lumba Bayabao and Binidayan on March 25 and Piagapo on March 26 and were supposed to go to the different towns of Lanao del Sur every day but were unable to proceed due to the Iligan City travel ban.

In line with its support initiatives to protect healthcare personnel and front liners, PCCI is also coordinating the local production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) with community production lines for PPEs which is now being undertaken by various volunteer organizations in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Davao , Zamboanga, Butuan , Iligan, and Surigao.

Iligan Chamber of Commerce in partnership with MSU-IIT Fablab distribute face shields to the Iligan City Frontliners to help fight Covid-19.

“We have emailed to our individual chambers designs/templates of face masks,/face shields and protective suits for their reference,” Alegrio noted.

As a complement to this, the local chambers are  also networking with colleges and universities whose chemical laboratories are producing alcohol for distribution to front liners in local hospitals and chamber members following the experience of Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan) whose chemistry laboratories successfully began production of 70% isopropyl and 70% ethanol alcohol which were donated for the use of front liners at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center, the only COVID-19 referral hospital in Region X.

 “The Oro Chamber is assisting Xavier Ateneo’s alcohol production through material sourcing of absolute alcohol, the raw material for the isopropyl and ethanol alcohol being processed for the NMMC,” Alegrio said.

Surigao Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. donated 38 imported medical-grade PPEs and 100 face masks to Caraga Regional Hospital. (Boyet Go)

Not the least, she reminded the chambers accountability to the individual workers of their respective business establishments, the community where they are situated, and securing their workplaces against the virus.

“The first responsibility of business is to take care of its workers, then to the Community to where the company is located by providing social amelioration, financial assistance and ensuring it follows the DOH guidelines on sanitation and disinfection of the workplace,” Alegrio emphasized. 

There are about 45 PCCI local Chambers of Commerce (LCCIs ) in Mindanao, around 90 percent of whose members belong to the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) whose capitalization range from P3M-100M  with large companies making up some  10 percent of chamber members.

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Oro Rotarians mobilize for CoVid-19 Front Liners

Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro East Urban

The Rotary Clubs of Cagayan de Oro are mobilizing their resources to answer the call for assistance in securing urgently needed medical supplies for the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC), the only COVID-19 referral hospital in Region.

One of the clubs, the Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro East Urban, delivered to NMMC some of the much needed supplies and continues to procure and locally produce others for the hospital’s front liners.

RC Cdo Rotarians, led by Pres Julino Dulfo and Rotary Anns of Pres Joy ! Josephine Carumba Dumlao, give to NMMC

“Although I’ve been staying in my room since the second week of March, I still managed to discharge my duties as president of the Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro East Urban and Chairman of the Zone 1 Council of Presidents, Rotary International District 3871 with 13 clubs,” said Rosalinda M. Caragos.

Through their internet chat rooms, Caragos, who is the wife of the late Salvador Caragos, Past District Governor of Rotary International District 3871, called for donations for the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) and the various clubs responded.

These acrylic intubation boxes were fabricated by RC CDO East Urban members upon the request of NMMC doctors.

 “We have been regularly supplying NMMA with their urgently needed Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs). Initially we turned over 8 boxes of isolation gowns (with 50 sets per box), and when they asked for more, we sent raincoats, hundreds of face masks, gallons of alcohol and chlorine, soap, et al.”

RC of Cagayan de Oro Premiere was one of the first clubs to quickly respond to call for donations for NMMC and were one of the first to deliver the initial goods for the front liners, after the RC of Cagayan de Oro (Mother Club) which was the first to deliver urgently needed medical supplies and PPEs to the region’s only CoVid-19 Referral Hospital. They also called on their peers and colleagues to donate extra alcohol, disinfectants and goods for the front liners

“Now NMMC are asking for 50 acrylic intubation boxes to protect the doctors and the RC Opol and RC West CDO are now making them,” Caragos added.

This 12 yr old girl and her Rotarian mom made 98 face shields which were donated to NMMC.

She  related how one of their members and her 12-year old daughter, hand-made face shields which are due for delivery along with a few more face masks arriving soon through the coordination of the club committee chair, her daughter Stephanie Caragos and co-chair Pam Navarro-Salon.

We are now waiting for over 100 goggles, four dozen raincoats and 98 face shields which are due for delivery,” Stephanie said. “We are also waiting for the delivery of face masks we ordered, hopefully they will arrive this week.”

Receiving the first batch of donated medical supplies and PPEs at NMMC from RC CDO East Urban.

Lately, RC East Urban has also started delivering supplies and PPE to the J.R. Borja General Hospital at Bgy. Carmen which is owned and operated by the city government,  which also requested assistance in procuring the urgently needed items.

RC Uptown, through, AG Mitchel Dennis Gonzalez bought 6 boxes of Isolation gowns at 50 sets per box, while RCEU- got 2 boxes

“Some of our members in RC CDO East Urban sends us funds whenever we need more money to buy materials and supplies. RC of CDO also granted our request to re-allocate the grant money they recently received from RI for this purpose.” (RMB)

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FDA Approves five brand of Rapid Antibody Test Kits for COVID-19

In what could be a critical turning point in the country’s battle against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved today, March 30, 2020, the use of five (5) brands of Rapid Test Kits for COVID-19.

 “We approve kits that are registered and used in countries with advanced technology and wide experience with COVID 19. We want the people to have access to testing but of course, proper evaluation and safeguards will still be in place,” FDA Director General Eric Domingo said in press statement posted in the FDA website.

According to the FDA Advisory No. 2020-483, approved where the following (with countries of origin): NANJING VAZYME 2019-nCoV IgG/IgM DETECTION KIT (Singapore); NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (2019-NCOV) IgM/IgG ANTIBODY DETECTION KIT (COLLOIDAL GOLD METHOD) (China); DIAGNOSTIC KIT FOR IgM/IgG ANTIBODY TO CORONAVIRUS (SARS-CoV-2) (COLLOIDAL GOLD (China); 2019-nCoV ANTIBODY TEST (COLLOIDAL GOLD) (China); and SARS-CoV-2 ANTIBODY TEST (LATERAL FLOW METHOD (China).

FDA also approved the SARS Cov2 kit by Gene Xpert  from Abbott Laboratories which can detect the virus within 5 minutes. This test kit is PCR based. To date, FDA has approved 17 PCR based test kits for commercial use.

RT SARS-CoV-2Amplification-Kit-with-Vials

As a safety precaution, the FDA shall require the product inserts or label of the Rapid Test Kits to state the following: “This product is strictly for medical professional use only and not intended for personal use. The administration of the test and interpretation of results should be done by a trained health professional. Confirmatory testing is required.”

“The rapid test kits will yield a faster result compared to PCR based kits, but it is important that a trained health professional will evaluate and interpret the results,” Domingo stressed.

Earlier last week, affiliate chambers of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) in Mindanao urged President Rodrigo Duterte to ramp up of mass screening of possible COVID-19 cases in the country through the adoption of the Rapid Serologic Test (RST) as a surveillance tool and for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to grant Emergency Use Authority to approve the applications for registration of verifiable suppliers of RST Kits that already underwent the registration process with their respective FDAs in their country of origin.

 “We urgently need to check the health of our communities and this is only possible using mass testing in the field. Having statistics of sick patients in the hospital is just too late,” said Ma. Teresa R. Alegrio, PCCI area vice president for Mindanao.

“We need to know actual cases in the field even before they become symptomatic or no longer symptomatic (unknowingly healed) to make targeted decisions before they even get to hospitals,” she added.

PCCI is advocating the immediate rollout of the mass screening program using RST starting with all PUIs awaiting access to PCR testing, all PUMs, vulnerable persons within the vicinity of a cluster of Covid-19 outbreak, and among front liners in the hospital and in the field. Persons who test positive from RST mass screening should also be required to undergo priority confirmatory testing by PCR.

However, the FDA stresses the need for caution in the deployment of rapid test kits which should only be used by certified medical professionals, and called on local government chief executives, heads of agencies, hospitals and private companies to be cautious in using the approved test kits. Further, the agency asked doctors to help in testing and guide patients in the interpretation of the results.

“We have to be very cautious in using these rapid test kits because they measure antibodies and not the viral load itself. The body takes time to develop antibodies and this might give a negative result for patients who have been infected but antibodies have not yet developed antibodies. A positive result due to cross reaction with other bacteria or viruses is also possible, which is why a confirmatory PCR based test is still required,” Domingo noted.

Domingo also emphasized the need for the DOH to increase the number of capable laboratories accredited to perform the PCR confirmatory tests.

DOH-10 Regional Director Dr. Adriano Suba-an said they plan to convert the TB (tuberculosis) Reference Center at the DOH compound in Carmen, Cagayan de Oro City into a coronavirus disease COVID-19 testing laboratory during the Regional Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (RIATF-EID) held March 27 in Cagayan de Oro City.

The DOH-10 TB Reference Center has an RT-PCR (real time polymerase chain reaction) equipment that can actually be used for the testing subject to compliance with COVID-19 testing standards and other requirements of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

The  Indonesian Society of Respirology  (PDPI) has said diagnostic test kits for tuberculosis could be modified and used for COVID-19 since Cepheid, the US-based molecular diagnostics company producing the Xpert TBM/RIF diagnostic kits, has redesigned its Xpress Flu/RSV cartridges so that they can detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the deadly COVID-19 disease.

Genexpert system with Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 test.

Dr. Faisal Yunus, a member of the PDPI advisory board, said regular tuberculosis diagnostic machines in Indonesia could now detect COVID-19 if their cartridges were replaced with the new redesigned cartridges, Faisal told The Jakarta Post recently.

The technology recently received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is now approved to run COVID-19 tests in the US.

 “FDA remains steadfast in its obligation to protect the public. Despite the global crisis we are faced with, FDA continues to safeguard public health by ensuring that health commodities, especially those related to addressing the COVID 19 emergency, are certified following regulatory standards – through streamlined processes,” Domingo noted.

“Let us remain vigilant and hopeful as we protect each other’s welfare against those who seem to take advantage of this vulnerable situation. During this rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in the country, the agency continues to serve the people by giving them access to testing without compromising our mandate of ensuring the safety, efficacy and quality of every health product for the public,” he added.

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Chambers propose mass screening with RST to curb CoVid-19 spread

© RITM Researchers at the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine prepare to load reagents into a real-time PCR machine as they check their testing kits for the Zika virus on Wednesday, February 3.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry today endorsed to President Rodrigo Duterte a resolution from its affiliate chambers in Mindanao urging the ramping up of mass screening of possible COVID-19 cases in the country through the adoption of the Rapid Serologic Test (RST) as a surveillance tool.

In its letter to the president coursed through Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea dated today, PCCI President Amb. Benedicto V. Yujuico also requested the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to grant Emergency Use Authority to the application for registration of verifiable suppliers of RST kits, and to set up “PCR Sub-National Reference Laboratories” in all regions of Mindanao.

 “We urgently need to check the health of our communities and this is only possible using mass testing in the field. Having statistics of sick patients in the hospital is just too late,” said Ma. Teresa R. Alegrio, PCCI area vice president for Mindanao.

“We need to know actual cases in the field even before they become symptomatic or no longer symptomatic (unknowingly healed) to make targeted decisions before they even get to hospitals,” she added.

PCCI is advocating the immediate rollout of the mass screening program using RST by local government units in partnership with national agencies, Philippine Red Cross and other NGOs starting with all PUIs awaiting access to PCR testing, all PUMs, vulnerable persons within the vicinity of a cluster of Covid-19 outbreak, and among front liners in the hospital and in the field. Persons who test positive from RST mass screening should also be required to undergo priority confirmatory testing by PCR.

The chambers are also requesting the Food and Drug Administration Philippines (FDA) to grant Emergency Use Authority to approve the applications for registration of verifiable suppliers of RST Kits that already underwent the registration process with their respective FDAs in their country of origin.

Not the least, PCCI also supports the call of many LGUs and regional bodies to set up  “sub-national reference labs” in all regions of Mindanao in addition to the four already being set up in the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, the Baguio General Hospital & Medical Center in Benguet, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.

The Western Visayas Medical Center and the Bicol Public Health Laboratory are also being prepared for testing. 

In addition to the University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH), five private hospitals are also being assessed by the DOH and the World Health Organization as possible extension laboratories. 

These are the molecular biology laboratories of St. Luke’s Medical Center – Global City, Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center – Quezon City and Chinese General Hospital.

Medical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco, California on March 12. (AFP, Josh Edelson)

Indonesian Experience

A week ago, Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered the rollout of rapid tests for COVID-19 across the country in a bid to accelerate detection of the disease.

Rapid tests are easier to perform than regular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and can detect COVID-19 cases quicker.

Since rapid tests like the RST only require blood serum as a sample, these can be conducted by most health laboratories across the country enabling mass testing in COVID-19 hit areas to be performed quickly.

It is easier to implement than the regular tests like PCR, which must be performed in level two biosafety laboratories, since they involved the sampling of nasal fluids or larynx substances which contain the virus as main specimens.

Since rapid tests are easier to perform, Indonesia expects more people to be tested and sent to hospitals if found positive. To anticipate a rise in confirmed cases, Jokowi called for hospitals to set up health protocols for handling those who had performed the test.

The West Java administration conducts COVID-19 rapid tests for 300 medical workers & staff of Hasan Sadikin Hospital at Anggrek Polyclinic, Bandung, Indonesia on March 25. (West Java public relations)

PCR too slow to determine virus spread

Although PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is a tried and tested method to confirm COVID-19 infection in PUIs and PUMs, it does not give a true picture of the spread of the infection in a community due to the length of time it takes to confirm a test, now worsened by the backlog at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) due to the sheer volume of samples, the shortage of testing kits to meet the demand, and the extended time to send samples to RITM due to the lockdown of the national transport network.

RITM is the sole testing facility in the country at present since the four additional regional centers are not yet ready to conduct tests.

The US Center for Disease Control & Prevention is distributing 1.1 million PCR test kits in a bid to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. (techcrunch.com)

Indirect Method

“RST is an excellent tool to check the presence of antibodies naturally produced by the human body as a defense mechanism to fight the presence of a destructive foreign body, e.g. the SARS-CoV2 /COVID-19 virus,” said Roderico Biaco, PCCI-X Regional Governor. “It is an indirect method of detecting the presence of the virus (the infection), unlike the PCR test which detects the actual virus itself.”

“Each has innate limitations, serve different functions, but should be used together to complement each other in combating the global pandemic,” Biaco noted.

Biaco said needs a better surveillance tool that is affordable, reasonably accurate and reliable, easily deployable in the field with minimal technical skill (no need special laboratory with HVAC and negative room pressure, etc), and safer (no need to transport live virus samples).

It is also important to note that our field operatives and front liners know that they have fair access to the testing themselves to boost their morale, he added.

“Furthermore, we can map out (geo tag) the existence of the spread of the virus using GIS (geospatial information system) and updating the GIS database is faster using RST,” Biaco stressed.

“This is critical in planning and executing decisions in the field. We need to analyze faster patterns and trends the virus spreading in the community to make proactive policies and timely decisions.”

Genexpert system with Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 test.

RST vs. PCR explained

In the early stage of infection( first 5-6 days), a true positive person may be tested negative by RST (false negative) because his body may not yet have produced enough antibodies that can be detected by RST. RST is not the proper tool to monitor the ongoing infection, that is the role of PCR, he explained.

On the other hand, science journals are saying that the infection starts in the lungs and the virus may not still be present in nasal tracts or sputum 1-5 days after exposure for the PCR test to detect possibly yielding a false negative also.

PCR also cannot detect the virus if the person has already completely healed from the disease.

How RST buys time

The IgM and IgG antibodies that are specific to the COVID-19 virus may take around 5-6 days after exposure for the body to produce enough antibodies detectable by RST.

At that point, the infected person may start showing symptoms. Most healthy persons are expected to show mild reaction to the virus and may even be asymptomatic, but his immune system already produces antibodies combating the virus.

Upon successfully fighting the virus, the infected person gets rid of the virus in his system, but the antibodies may remain in his body for several days.

In this event, PCR test can no longer determine the presence of the virus nor diagnose if the person went through the infection in the first place in the absence of prior testing. However, in this case, RST can determine with a high degree of accuracy a past infection of the person from COVID-19.

“This is a critical function of RST not doable by PCR. RST is an excellent tool to diagnose the general health of the community, while PCR for the individual patient,” Bioco said.

In the event of intercepting by RST a healthy person that went through the disease undetected, we have the opportunity to conduct contact retracing, isolate, contain and mitigate and stop the cluster from breaking out (that otherwise PCR screening alone cannot do).

Reports also claim that most of the transmission of the virus is by asymptomatic persons. Thus, it is important to cast a wider net to catch the virus, and do it fast.

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CDO Fil-Chinese Community delivers first batch of medical supplies to NMMC

Tomas Sia of the CDO Filipino-Chinese Community officially turns over the donated medical supplies to NMMC Domingo Gobalane. (photo courtesy of Jeffrey Ang)

The Filipino Chinese Community of Cagayan de Oro has delivered needed medical supplies to assist two government hospitals at the front line of the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Northern Mindanao (Region X).

On Monday, March 23, 2020, the group delivered to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) the first tranche of medical supplies worth P1-million earlier requested by hospital chief Dr. Jose Chan for health care workers.

Domingo Gobalane, representing NMMC receives the symbolic P1-M check donation from CDO Filipino-Chinese Community Chairman Sonny Choi

The NMMC is the only hospital in Region X with the capability to test and treat CONVID-19 Patients Under Investigation (PUI).

NMMC representative Domingo Gobalane received the truckload of locally purchased supplies worth P365,000 from CDO Filipino-Chinese Community President Sonny Choi, COVID-19 Response Committee Chair Efren Uy and other active members of the group at a local restaurant to reduce the risk of infection to the donors.

The first batch of medical supplies was turned over to NMMC at a local restaurant on March 23, 2020. (photo courtesy of Jeffrey Ang)

The initial shipment consisted of 60 cartons rubbing alcohol and sanitizing gel, two units knapsack sprayer, 12 pails disinfectant solution (chlorine), safety goggles, rubber boots, protective raincoats with pants, face shields, and 50 cartons disposable water tissues/paper towels

“The second tranche which we are purchasing outside the city will be arriving end of the month, and includes N95 face masks, chemical suits, gloves, shoe covers, hazardous material suits earlier requested by Dr. Chan,” Uy said.

COVID-19 Response Committee Chair Efren Uy of the CDO Filipino-Chinese Community being inteviewed by local media. (photo courtesy of Jeffrey Ang).

Although DOH Region X regional director Dr. Adrian Suba-an announced earlier Sunday, March 22nd,  that “ten PUIs have tested negative to COVID-19”, Chan clarified Monday that the number of PUIs in NMMC remain the same at 10 (with one in critical condition) because while some have been discharged, still other new cases have been admitted.

During the same press conference, Cagayan de Oro City Mayor read the latest updates on COVID-19 cases in Northern Mindanao (Region X).

Northern Mindanao Medical Center

“The DOH-10 data lists 58 PUIs, of whom 17 have been admitted to hospitals; 111 are under home quarantine and a further 1,579 are Persons Under Monitoring (PUMs). There was one fatality originating from outside the region that expired last March 13 with no further fatalities to date.”

Dr. Claire Paglinawan of the City Health Office also said the continuing house-to-house canvassing of possible COVID-19 cases has found 453 persons under monitoring (PUM) under home quarantine, and 149 who have already ended their mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

Moreno also reported that the NMMC, the J.R. Borja General Hospital and other private hospitals in the city are working out harmonized and synchronized operations, among which are moving maternal deliveries and minor cases from NMMC and JRBGH to the private hospitals.

JR Borja General Hospital

Later this month, Uy said the CDO Filipino Chinese Community will also be donating urgently needed medical supplies worth P500, 000 earlier requested by the J.R. Borja General Hospital through Dr Liova de Guia, for 30 pcs. Virusolve Trigger Spray, 20 boots, Virusolve for soaking (10 gallons), individual sterile surgical gowns with set-in sleeves (1,500 pcs), N95 masks (1,500 pcs), 1,500 yellow aprons, and 30 spore clear wipes

The Filipino-Chinese Community of Cagayan de Oro includes 21 community organizations, including family associations, chambers of commerce, schools, martial arts, civic and religious fraternities. 

These including the following: Misamis Oriental Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Inc.;  Mindanao Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China in the Philippines; Cagayan de Oro Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Inc.; Cagayan de Oro You We Tong Civic & Religious Fraternity, Inc.Oro Christian Grace SchoolMisamis Oriental Liong Tek Fraternity Association, Inc.; Sejo-Lim Family Association-Northern Mindanao ChapterCagayan de Oro Bell Church Foundation, Inc.Kong Hua SchoolCagayan de Oro Volunteer Fire Brigade, Inc.Phil. Wushu Federation-Cagayan de Oro ChapterPhil. Kim Mun Association-Misamis Oriental Chapter Cagayan Gospel Church Cagayan de Oro Filipino-Chinese Amity Club;  Cagayan de Oro San Lorenzo Filipino-Chinese Catholic CommunityPhilippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.-Misamis Oriental ChapterPhilippine Chinese High School Alumni Association-Cagayan de Oro ChapterMisamis Oriental Progressive Mason Temple, Inc.; Kong Hua School, Inc.; and the Chee Kung Tong Chinese Free Mason Misamis Oriental Branch.

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IP rituals invoke protection vs. COVID-19

Elders of the Higa-onon Catanico-Tablon-Cugman-Ancestral Domain in Malasag, Bgy. Cugman, Cagayan de Oro City perform traditional rituals seeking protection vs. the COVID-19 Pandemic. (Photo by Datu Masikal Jabiniar)

Indigenous Peoples of Northern Mindanao are invoking the protection of their spirit guardians through traditional rituals against the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

On Sunday, March 22nd, the Higa-onon Catanico-Tablon-Cugman-Ancestral Domain (CATATCU AD) organization conducted their traditional rituals on the tribe’s sacred grounds seeking protection from all tribal folk and other citizens against the COVID-19 coronavirus within their tribal domain.

Datu Masikal Jude C. Jabiniar, who sits as Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) in the Cugman Barangay Council and Buntola Sayuda (liaison officer) to their tribe said their baylans (high spiritual leaders) conducted the Panagpeng at their sacred grounds on the hills of Pegtawagan, Sitio Malasag,  Barangay Cugman, Cagayan de Oro City from 3:00am to 12 noon with the blessings of Barangay Chair Wendolyn L. Escobia.

“This ritual invokes protection against deadly diseases which can cause calamities in our communities,” Jabiniar explained in Bisaya. “Through this ritual our baylans and elders ask Magbabaya (The Creator) through the guardians of the four corners of the world, to stop the spread of this deadly disease COVID-19.”

Bukidnon, Talaandig and Higaonon tribal elders gather in the Kaamulan Grounds, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon to perform the Panalawahig-Pamugsa Ritual vs. the COVID-19 Pandemic. (photo by Ma. Easterluna Canoy)

 The ritual was headed by Datu Sumisilang/Roger A. Painato and Bae Florita Sayonganbaylans of the 2nd District of Cagayan de Oro. They were assisted by Datu Lumad/Ireneo L. Jabiniar, Higaonon Chieftain of Barangay Cugman, and other members of the Higaonon Tribal Council.

Interestingly, when the blood of one of the chickens offered as sacrifice during the ritual was shed on a white cloth, it showed what appeared to be a woman sitting with her back to the viewer.

“Our baylan believes it could be the picture of the woman who could have been the first victim of this virus,” Janiniar shared.

Earlier, tribal elders of the Taalandig, Bukidnon and Higaonon tribes conducted their own rituals a tent shelter beside the Kalawaig River at the Kaamulan Capitol Grounds in Malaybalay City last Wednesday, March 18 from 8:30am till noon.

Led by Datu Makapukaw/Adolino Saway and Bae Inatlawan/AdelinaTarino, and several other leaders performed two ritual prayers seeking protection for the people from the threat caused by the COVID19 virus pandemic sweeping the globe.

“According to our tribal elders, the rituals sought mercy from the water spirit and protection against the threat of COVID-19,” said Ma. Easterluna S. Canoy, Executive Director of Kitanglad Integrated NGOs, Inc. (KIN) which promotes and advocates the rights of indigenous peoples, especially their welfare and cultural survival through sustainable development, ecological integrity and cultural democracy.

The  Panalawahig  Ritual is directed to the Bulalakaw—the guardian water spirit to seek mercy for human transgressions that has made our waters unclean, and for the waters to help humans wash away impurities like the virus that afflict them.

Bae Inatlawan and Datu Makapukaw send offerings down the Kalawaig River during the concluding part of their Panalawahig Ritual as a recompense for human’s pollution of the river. It also symbolizes the baylan’s prayer–invoking the cleansing power of water to sweep away the COVID-19 virus for the salvation of humanity. (photo by Ma. Easterluna Canoy)

The  Pamugsa  Ritual is conducted to block catastrophes that would affect mountains, forests and all life forms, especially the communities, or humanity in general.

Aside from the two rites that were performed in public owing to the support of the Provincial Government of Bukidnon, tribal elders and ritual experts are also duty bound to perform important rituals held in their respective communities, or in the sacred grounds of their forest domains or beside river systems.

“These emergency rites are invoked to summon nature spirit guides in the event of foreseen and on-going disasters that affect the tribe and its neighboring areas—even those far away, foreign places,” Canoy noted.

“Spiritual leaders of the tribe have performed rites directed to everyone all over the world, as they believe that despite one’s ethnic differences, we are all bound by one humanity, one Mother Earth,” she added.

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Mindanao Private Sector petitions PRRD for comprehensive COVID-19 relief package

The regional chambers of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Mindanao have petitioned President Rodrigo Duterte to consider a comprehensive package of measures to cushion the adverse effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and its countermeasures on business and workers in the island.

The petition was signed by Maria Teresa R. Alegrio, Area Vice President for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce & Industry (PCCI) and the governors of the PCCI regional chambers of South Eastern Mindanao, Central Mindanao, Northern Mindanao, Eastern Mindanao, Southwestern Mindanao, Western Mindanao, BARM Mindanao and Promote Normin Foundation headed by its President Elpidio M. Paras.

“There are about 45 PCCI local Chambers of Commerce (LCCIs ) in Mindanao, around 90% belong to MSMEs whose capitalization range from Php3M-100M  while large companies comprise about 10% of the chamber members,” Alegrio said.

PCCI AVP for Mindanao Ghaye Alegrio (center, in red) presides over the PCCI Davao Regional meeting with PCCI President Amb. Benedicto Yujuico, RG Art Milan & MinDA Asec. Romeo Montenegro.
(photo supplied)

PCCI National President Amb. Benedicto Yujuico has endorsed the petition to President Rodrigo Duterte through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III .

The petition describes how the lockdown of major cities and constraints placed on the movements of people and goods and services have left thousands of citizens without the means to provide for their daily needs, much less comply with the stringent measures to prevent the further spread of the virus among the populace, thus the urgent need for relief by adopting the following measures for the duration of the state of national emergency from the constraints and uncertainties imposed on livelihood, mobility and health.

Centrio Mall along C.M. Recto Avenue Monday morning, 16 March 2020. (photo by Joanne Sullano Cheng)

“Recognizing the continuing impact of COVID-19 crisis nationwide, the enforced “Community Quarantine” on Metro Manila, including many areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, the cancellation of all air, land and sea travel to and from the metropolis, and key areas of the country like Cebu and Davao, restrictions to minimize the contagion, have affected businesses particularly in the travel, tourism, and their related sectors.”

Urgent Fiscal Measures

Most of the requested measures in the petition involve finance and taxation, such as requesting the Department of Finance (DOF) to allow tax payments after April 15th and waive applicable penalties and interest charges for delayed tax remittances; That Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and DOF encourage banks to declare a moratorium on loan amortizations falling due within six (6) months from the occurrence of COVID-19 for business, consumer, home and loans to large enterprises, provided affected MSMEs and corporations apply with their respective banks for the moratorium to take effect; to re-consider the holiday pay for workers for April 9, Holy Thursday (also Araw ng Kagitingan) from 300% (if a business is in operation) and 200% (if closed) to 200% (if in operation), and 100% (if closed);

Using the Conditional Cash Transfer/Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino (CCT/PPP) Program to subsidize Micro and Small Businesses; for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to establish a rehabilitation fund for affected MSMEs for technical assistance and special financing for working capital and equipment/machinery acquisition; and for DTI to encourage Mall owners/management/lessors to waive rentals for MSMEs during the period of the closure order; or, grant a special arrangement as a support to our MSMEs.

UNUSUALLY DESERTED. Only a few motorists and bystanders were in Divisoria, Cagayan de Oro March 17 at 10 minutes before 10pm curfew ordered by officials to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Froilan G)

The chambers also cited the need for DTI to strictly enforce price controls to keep food prices (and inflation) low, protect food supply and other basic and prime commodities, especially for the marginalized sectors, and enable trade to continue.

Critical communications, utilities & vital industries

Recognizing the critical role of communications in this crisis situation, the petition also asks the Department of Information & Communications Technology (DICT) to enjoin PLDT and Globe to remove all Data Capping in mobile Broadband Internet services, to allow their customers a continuous service 24/7 until the crisis is declared over.

A habal-habal driver and some taxis tarry in Cagayan de Oro’s normally busy Plaza Divisoria. PU drivers report a drastic drop in income following the community quarantine and curfew. (Photo by Froilan Gallardo)

Likewise, the need for vital industries like power, water, transport, telecommunications and others that provide essential services continue to operate with businesses and workers exercising the recommended protocols as prescribed by DOH and guidelines issued by DOLE.

Equally important, the private sector recognized the need for the immediate construction of critical health infrastructure to prevent health facilities from collapsing with the expected peaking of cases in the coming weeks.

A health team prepares disinfectant solution after city officials ordered a city-wide disinfection in all places of worship following the death of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in CDO. (Photo by Froilan Gallardo)

The petition asks government to consider re-aligning allocated public infrastructure funds for the immediate construction of Specialized Covid19 Monitoring and Treatment facilities across the country;

It is also asking government to create and fund a Task Force that will be responsible for updating data and maps needed for a comprehensive snapshot of areas adversely affected by COVID-19 and the government resources deployed to curb its spread.

“Such data will be necessary for a more efficient and accurate modeling studies which will help the private sector direct its resources where it can be of most help in helping curb and eradicate COVID- 19 as well as rehabilitate businesses and workers adversely affected by the current government countermeasures vs. COVID-19,” the petition read.

Army soldiers patrol along Corrales Avenue after city officials implemented a 10pm to 5am curfew in Cagayan de Oro starting March 17 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Froilan Gallardo)

On top of these, LGUs through the provincial, city and municipal health offices should aggressively campaign for the public to immediately adopt positive health habits such as personal hygiene, eat healthy food, particularly locally grown fruits and vegetables, to boost personal immunity and lessen the effects of infection.

Keeping the food chain open

Recognizing Mindanao’s key role as the food basket of the country, the petition asks that Mindanao be declared a separate food quarantine area to allow the unhampered delivery of food for the entire country.

“The Department of Agriculture’s declarations on quarantined agricultural products (affected by the foot and mouth diseases, avian flu, etc.) cover the entire country. Location-specific Quarantine will help with the continued supply of food in the country.”

Not the least, the petition urges the creation of a “food logistics backbone” from General Santos to Cebu City and Tagbilaran City via Davao and Bukidnon and government to put up cold storage at key points to keep the food chain going.

Mindanao key to PH economy

Home to about 24 percent of the country’s population, Mindanao also accounts for over 40 percent of the poor. Its share of the national budget, which has ranged from 13 percent to 15 percent, is now up to 17.9 percent.

Although three of Mindanao’s regions experienced accelerated growth in 2018 (Davao Region with 8.6 percent; Northern Mindanao, 7.0 percent, and Zamboanga Peninsula, 6.3 percent; Mindanao’s economic output per capita of about $1,800 remains approximately half of the national level. One of its regions, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao (BARM), has the lowest per capita GDP among all regions in the country.

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Korean firm starts construction of Panguil Bay Bridge

President Rodrigo Duterte lays the time capsule for the Panguil Bay Bridge Project in Tubod, Lanao del Norte on November 28, 2018.

The joint venture group of three major Korean construction firms has begun the design and construction of the Panguil Bay Bridge Project in Tubod, Lanao del Norte.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) issued the group a Notice to Proceed on Feb. 14, 2020 and civil works for the project officially started on February 28, 2020.

Joint venture contractor Namkwang-Kukdong-Gumgwang earlier advised DPWH of their readiness to start the detailed engineering, design, and construction with the mobilization of personnel and equipment on Friday, February 28, 2020.

“Hopefully the project will be completed before the end of 2022,” said National Economic & Development Authority Region X Director Mylah Faye B. Cariño.

Mega Bridge Program

The Panguil Bay Bridge project is the first listed undertaking of DPWH’s Inter-island Linkage (Mega Bridge) Program which involves the construction of a series of short- and long-span bridges linking island provinces to eventually connect Mindanao and Visayas to Luzon via land travel.

DPWH Secretary Mark Villar said the moving P1.7-trillion plan involves the construction of 17 short- and long-span bridges with a total length of 175,650 meters to be funded through a mix of foreign loans and grants, public-private partnerships, and the General Appropriations Act (GAA), a law Congress passes annually which defines the annual expenditure program of the national government and all of its instrumentalities.

.First dibs

The Panguil Bay Bridge is the first project under the master plan.

Once completed, the Panguil Bay Bridge will be the country’s longest at 3.77 kilometers, some 1.57 kms longer than the 2.2-kilometer San Juanico Bridge that links Samar and Leyte.

DPWH Undersecretary Emil Sadain, project director in-charge of DPWH UPMO Operations and Technical Services, said it is envisioned to be a two-lane bridge which would connect Tangub City in Misamis Occidental and Tubod town in Lanao del Norte that would drastically reduce travel time between these two points from two-and-a-half hours to seven minutes.

It will also shorten trips from the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan to Tangub as well as the Zamboanga Peninsula Region.

Villar said bridges are key to developing the Philippine transport industry, as they are crucial in improving mobility and interconnectivity among adjacent cities and provinces.

Aside from spurring economic growth, bridges would also reduce the country’s estimated P3.5-billion daily productivity loss due to traffic.

THE Panguil Bay Bridge Project, to be financed through official development assistance from South Korea, broke ground November 27, 2018,

The $100.13-million loan for the project was obtained from the Export-Import Bank of Korea (KEXIM) in 2016 through a loan agreement with the Korean Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF).

Cost overruns

The Panguil Bay Bridge Project was one of three bridges under the national government’s Build Build Build infrastructure program which incurred the highest cost overruns in the 2018 national budget due to high inflation and project changes, according to data released by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

Neda’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) Portfolio Review 2018 report, total cost overruns—additional costs over and above the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC)-approved project cost—increased 264.02-percent to P24.79 billion in 2018, from P6.81 billion in 2017.

Inflation in 2018 averaged 5.2 percent with September and October posting the highest inflation rates of 6.7 percent in the year.

The change to the Panguil Bay Bridge Project and Integrated DRR was brought about by the increase in the length of approach roads and the width of the main bridge by a meter.

The scope of the project was also widened with an increase in the length of the pile foundations; borehole diameters; inclusion of a seismic design; and additional temporary facilities.

The changes increased the project cost of the Panguil Bay Bridge Project P2.52 billion (51.57 percent) to P7.38 billion from the ICC-approved cost of P4.86 billion.

Neda said the revised cost includes actual expenses for RoW [right-of-way] acquisition in Misamis Occidental and Lanao del Norte.

Reallocation

The project also had to re-allocate US$9,093,000 from Contingencies to Civil Works and Detailed Engineering & Design (DED) loan categories, since the original loan allocation for civil works and DED amounting to US$86,038,000 was deemed insufficient to cover the US$125,519,000 actual bid price of the winning civil works contractor.

“These changes in scope involved costs which required the concurrence and approval of the funders so it resulted in delays since negotiations involve time but hopefully with the notice to proceed and start of civil works we can now proceed with less of these delays,” Cariño noted.

The Department of Finance earlier requested the Export-Import Bank of Korea’s Economic Development Fund (KEXIM-EDCF) approval for the re-allocation while assuring the bank the US$9,093,000 shortfall resulting from this would be financed by the Philippine Government from its counterpart funds.

KEXIM subsequently approved the request as well as the Contract Agreement and Notice of Disbursement Limit for Design-Build of the project.

The remaining US$30,388,000 for civil works and DED contract shall be sourced from the national government’s counterpart funds, which has already been covered by the ICC approval in July 2018 of the DPWH request for change in the aforementioned scope and 52 percent increase in project cost. (compiled by RMB)

FDA issues Exemption Certificate for local SARS CoV-2 PCR Detection Kit

Harnessing the ingenuity of Filipino scientist and doctors with the full backing of the DOST, Dr. Raul Destura and his team were able to create the Lab-in-a-Mug device.
(Photo from the Philippine Genome Center).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a Certificate of Exemption for the locally developed and manufactured SARS CoV-2 PCR Detection Kit that will make it much cheaper for Filipino health professionals to test for the coronavirus.

The project is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).

The SARS CoV-2 PCR Detection Kit technology is developed by local scientists led by Dr. Raul V. Destura from the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health (UP-NIH). 

Dr. Raul V. Destura

The kit will be used for field testing coupled with gene sequencing at the Philippine Genome Center. The DOST also helped Dr. Destura in forming his spin-off company Manila Health Tek and will make available test kits at a fraction of the cost of imported text  kits.

The COVID-19 kit costs PhP28,000 per 25 tests and the RNA extraction kit costs PhP10,000 per 50 reactions. The RNA extraction kit is for extracting the virus from the specimen. 

The cost for each test is P1,120+200 = P1,320 or only 16 percent of the current cost of imported test kits at P8,500.

Researchers at the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine prepare to load reagents into a real-time PCR machine as they check their testing kits for the Zika virus. RITM

Around 200 kits can be manufactured in a week but is currently limited by the supply of raw materials. The present inventory is enough for 6,000 tests with another 20,000 on order and expected to be delivered in two weeks.

Manila Health Trek has not yet maximized its production capacity because of some uncertainties with the Department of Health, but DOST reports it has already started today upon receiving the FDA certificate. The firm will deploy 1,000 tests this week by Friday, another 2,000 next week, to be followed by another 3,000 the week after. #