Inside a live crisis
When the statistics were about infections, they caused concern and alarm. But when the statistics are about deaths, the reactions take on a different nuance. The message of infections had always been tempered with the attendant information of massive recoveries, consistently assuring Filipinos that 98% or more will recover from Covid-19. Thankfully, that recovery rate is being proven true.
I understand that the government, and specifically the Department of Health (DOH), believes it must not cause panic and lead people to look at the brighter side of life. I agree, too. Society cannot just deteriorate into panic and depression even if there are reasons to do so. I do not have to explain how life needs to be spiked by hope to keep the spirit and human behavior steady and productive. I myself am one who has devoted decades to be a hope bearer along with many others.
The DOH has been around for a long time, over a century from its fledgling beginnings to what it is now. I do not have to tell them about keeping the population as calm as possible in times of great difficulty – whether war, epidemics, or disasters. But I believe that they understand that the dynamic movement of calm and panic in stressful situations depends almost entirely on how prepared people are, materially and emotionally, and how authorities handle the situation. In other words, credibility in the worst of times is a major determinant.
Preparedness of the public. How prepared are the Filipino people? Some are and most are not. The last 13 months have slapped us in the face as far as our preparedness, or lack of it. Hunger had surged in the 2nd and 3rd quarter of 2020 despite the Ayuda of the national government. The target beneficiaries of that Ayuda tell us the story of preparedness, from the side of government and the side of the people. Of course, government was more prepared as Bayanihan I & II were quickly decided and funded.
But the Ayuda targeted a huge percentage of Filipino families; in fact, inordinately so as Bayanihan I tried to reach 80% of these. In other words, the same government that told us how improved the poverty situation was itself believed that 80% of families needed relief, especially for food. The truth of our preparedness simply rose to the surface. Simply, we as a whole are badly unprepared materially. Emotionally, though, we have been much more resilient. For 13 months, we have meekly followed government orders.
The Ayuda, though, cannot be sustained by government funds to the level of Bayanihan I, or even Bayanihan II. Government apparently started with a healthy balance sheet, as did most companies, and the first months of the lockdown were responded to by the government and big business with aggressive support. That is not the situation anymore. Both government and big business know they are at the edge. That is why vaccines are totally important to them. Vaccines are bearing the brunt of expectations.
With vaccines being made the savior of society, resources and communication campaigns are being devoted to bringing home that message of hope. With more resources for vaccines, there will be less resources for Ayuda. This jolting reality is now being experienced by the Ayuda distribution today, less target beneficiaries and less amounts.
The other jolting reality is the delay of vaccines in the context of their being the messiah in a real crisis. Every week of delay will be felt, will be criticized by those who embraced them as the messiah. And here lies a serious contradiction of sorts as the majority of Filipinos do not look forward to being vaccinated. The opposite extremes of Philippine society are in active play again, for and against.
Both government and big business will be pushing the vaccines, with funds and with public exhortations. Given our history, it should be understood that the majority of Filipinos are not familiar with being vaccinated. That is why there is an intuitive fear of vaccination. Over time, however, the upper extreme will get its way. Filipinos will be vaccinated, whether or not they want to at this moment. The majority will simply realize that they have to pay the price for being materially unprepared. Poverty will still bow to the dictates of power and wealth.
Meanwhile, great apprehension is now gripping Metro Manila and many provinces. The DOH was again unprepared for the surge, for the fattening of the curve, despite warnings from statistical experts that it was coming. Even worse than the worst of 2020, the health system has been overwhelmed. The DOH may keep showing that there is still available space in hospitals but there never is when a patient needs it in a life and death situation. In a grotesque way, the DOH is spared from sheer mayhem by the fact that most of the poor do not even try to get into that overwhelmed system. They just lie there, they just hope to recover there, or they just die there.
It is incumbent upon the health authorities to be not only pro-active but even aggressive in coming up with emergency measures. Knowing what they know, knowing the level of unpreparedness of both the people and the official system, and knowing that people will not just give up on their health and lives, they will turn to whatever option is available and affordable. It may be traditional, it may be herbal, or it may be medicines like Ivermectin. It is not the role of DOH and FDA today to act as though we are in a normal situation.
People are dying at rates that will cause panic to grow. Maybe, as doctors themselves, health officials have become used to dying. Maybe, death has surrounded doctors all their professional lives. I suggest they take death seriously, each death as important or they will undervalue total deaths. Most of all, each avoidable death must be their mission to prevent. Let that be their North Star.
The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.