Galvez commends Muslim Mindanao's COVID-19 response

The newly-established Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is "doing well" in managing its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation despite various "limitations."

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 (NTF AGAINST COVID-19 / MANILA BULLETIN)

National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. made this assessment Wednesday during his visit to BARMM officials in Cotabato City.

"Since the onset of the pandemic, the BARMM government has focused on increasing the bed capacity, isolation and health facilities in the region despite some limitations on our resources," Galvez said during his meeting with the local chief executives.

The BARMM, which replaced the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) following the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2019, hs a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases.

As of August 25, the Department of Health (DOH) said BARMM has 581 total cases. Of these, 115 were active, with 455 recoveries, and 11 deaths.

"While we can categorically claim that the situation in the BARMM is relatively better compared to other regions in the country, this should not be a reason for us to lower our guards. After all, we are still experiencing an increasing number of confirmed cases in the region," said BARMM chief minister Murad Ebrahim.

To better respond to the pandemic, Galvez turned over to BARMM 10,960 test kits; 4,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) sets; 4,000 N95 masks; and 4,000 surgical masks.

He also urged the local chief executives to establish at least one level 3 hospital in each province in BARMM.

There are five provinces and three component cities in BARMM namely Basilan (except Isabela City which is part of Zamboanga Peninsula or Region 9), Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Cotabato City, Lamitan City, and Marawi City.

However, there are only two COVID-19 testing facilities in BARMM at present -- the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center in Cotabato City and the Amai Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi City.

"The issue is the lack of test kits kaya nagdala kami ng 10,000 test kits para sa inyo. Ang 960 na GeneXpert darating para sa Cotabato City. 'Yong Amai Pakpak bibigyan din natin ng priority dahil lumalakas ang transmission sa Iligan at Lanao dahil sa LSIs at transport ng OFWs (The issue is the lack of test kits that's why we brought 10,000 test kits for you. Around 960 GeneXpert kits will be brought to Cotabato City. We will also prioritize the Amai Pakpak Medical Center because of an increased transmission in Iligan and Lanao due to the transport of locally stranded individuals and overseas Filipino workers)," Galvez said.

There were also tool kits that were given to local chief executives which will serve as their guidance on how to implement localized lockdowns on areas with high COVID-19 cases.

The NTF is pushing for localized lockdowns in the communities instead of region-wide lockdowns through an enhanced community quarantine to help revive the country's economy.

Galvez also urged local officials to include social healing and post-trauma programs for COVID-19 patients despite having a low number of infections. He said they have observed that the number of suicide occurence rises amid the pandemic.

He said in one area which he did not identify, there were only eight COVID-19 cses but 50 suicide cases.

"Mayroon akong tatlong cases na humahagulgol 'yong nagpositive kasi iniwan sila ng pamilya nila. Mayroon nag-positive na OFW, bumalik sa ospital kasi ayaw na tanggapin ng pamilya. The COVID pandemic has broken some relationships (I have three cases of individuals who cried because their families left them. An OFW who tested positive also went back to the hospital because the family also abandoned the patient. The COVID pandemic has broken some relationships)," Galvez said.

The chief implementer emphasized that the battle against the dreaded virus is still "far from over" and the "only way to win the war" is through the collaboration of the national government, the local government, and the public.