COTABATO CITY — Members of the United Nations (UN) Country Team in the Philippines, led by Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, came to Cotabato City Monday, Nov. 29 to support the three-day National COVID-19 Vaccination Days campaign in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

BARMM is one of the six regions being prioritized in the government’s three-day national COVID-19 vaccination drive because of their low inoculation rate.

The Bangsamoro Region has been able to manage and contain the spread of COVID-19 virus. However, BARMM was still disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in terms of its socioeconomic development and in aggravating existing and emerging vulnerabilities in the region, according to a recent report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“This underlies the need for ramping up vaccination in the Bangsamoro,” said Gonzalez. “We cannot allow COVID-19 to reverse hard-won development gains in the country in general and in the Bangsamoro in particular, and the vaccination of our population is an important step in this direction.”

As of 27 November, the UN has been able to procure and deliver 32.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through UNICEF and WHO as delivery partners of the COVAX Facility. This accounts for 18.8 per cent of total population coverage in the Philippines.

In BARMM, in particular, the UN is continuously providing needed important medical equipment, including the setting up a COVID-19 testing lab in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the provision of five cold chain vehicles (one per BARMM province), two sea ambulances and 18 solar vaccine refrigerators.

The UN is working with local governments in the BARMM to ensure that they adopt COVID-19 protocols and health emergencies in their plans and programmes. Some 21,000 returnees have received direct support for enhanced infection prevention and control and effective quarantine measures during their stay in evacuation centres and transit sites.

Three city/municipal and 85 barangay level Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) plans in BARMM have been enhanced to include response to COVID-19 and health emergencies. At the same time, 81 sites across BARMM have been upgraded through COVID-19 preventive measurements, including through Cash-for-Work modalities.

The UN is also actively addressing vaccination hesitancy through the training of community health and frontline workers on communicating COVID-19 vaccination; engaging local officials and religious, IP, and other community leaders to support COVID-19 vaccination, address barriers to access and convince others to get vaccinated; among others.

Just as importantly, the UN is responding to COVID-19 induced mental health issues among vulnerable communities in the Region. It has set up 46 Psychological Support Services (PSS) hotlines across 46 displacement sites in BARMM. Some 5,000 individuals have benefitted from PSS sessions, including distribution of MHPSS kits; over 600 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and evacuees have been trained on peer support; and close to 400 IDPs have been engaged in cash-for-work (CFW) activities as positive coping mechanisms.

Gonzalez was joined at the BARMM event by Dr. Leila Joudance, country representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA); Kati Tanninen, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA); Manja Vidic, head of office of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA); and Oscar Marenco, country manager of UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS).