Chiqui Blancaflor, head of Uswag Molecular Laboratory in Iloilo, sets out to quell vaccine hesitancy

Under the watchful eye of Chiqui

KEY FRONTLINER Chiqui Blancaflor (Jules Vivas)

Chiqui Blancaflor, the special assistant to the mayor, has her hands full monitoring the status of the pandemic. As the chief of Uswag Molecular Laboratory, her main duties include the testing and surveillance of diseases in Iloilo City.

Apart from her Medical Technology degree from the University of San Agustine (USA), Chiqui also has a master’s degree in Public Governance from West Visayas State University (WVSU). She has been working with the local government unit (LGU) of Iloilo for more than 18 years, was once a sanitation inspector, making her the perfect fit to head the COVID-response of the city.

Among the various tasks of the Ilongga frontliner are handling medical staff and patients, giving advice on how the LGU can adopt the guidelines of the Department of Health (DOH), as well as executing health regulations on the ground.

When she’s not in the lab, Chiqui is out on the field studying the movements and behavior of people to come up with solutions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. One of her philosophies that most Ilonggos practice as well is anticipating rather than reacting, which leads back to the significance of mass testing and data gathering.

Schools in the Philippines have partially reopened. The education sector, however, is still struggling with the new normal setup, as is the case for many industries amid a health crisis that worsens by the day.

CHECK UP Inspection of the Uswag Iloilo City Molecular Laboratory in Molo district by the Department of Health-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. Second from the left, in a black scrub, is Chiqui (Iloilo City government photo)

People have been coming home to Iloilo as they try to escape the clutter of the National Capital Region (NCR) and get away from the coronavirus. “Students are returning to Iloilo because we are a hub of education,” says Chiqui. She states her observation that graduating students and interns who want to complete their on-the-job training or OJT are resettling in Iloilo City since the first semester last June.

‘I want to get as many vaccinated. Paisa-isa (one by one) or groups of 10 or more, we will always give them the same amount of attention.’

Iloilo City, hailed as the education hub of Western Visayas by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), has 28 public and private colleges and universities. Chiqui herself is a product of the outstanding education system of the capital city, being an alumnus of Santa Maria Catholic School, currently known as Ateneo de Iloilo.

CHIQUI'S DOMAIN Medical technologists at the Uswag Molecular Laboratory in San Pedro, Molo district (Iloilo City Government)

Despite the multitude of learning institutions, there is a lack of health awareness that Chiqui endeavors to solve. While logistics and the justification of data have always been a challenge in the implementation phase of any program from the national government, the bigger problem is vaccine hesitancy.

“We’re doing everything, from the mass media to social media and word of mouth. Even going as far as door to door,” explains Chiqui on the LGU’s effort to convince people to get inoculated. She furthers that while current vaccines were made for a single strain, any and all protection from COVID-19 is necessary.

It’s worth noting that Chiqui’s fight against the invisible foe is not a losing battle. Backed by the LGU, she currently has 30 medical technologists in her molecular lab and a swabbing team at her disposal. Iloilo also has 10 private and two government hospitals.

“I want to get as many vaccinated. Paisa-isa (one by one) or groups of 10 or more, we will always give them the same amount of attention,” she vows.