In support for its efforts to get back on its feet in bringing tuberculosis (TB) care to its constituents, the City Government of Valenzuela gets equipment grants from the United States of Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Stop TB Partnership on November 23 at The City Hall Audio-Visual Room.
The donation package for the Philippines, which is pegged at more than PhP 130 million, will also benefit the provinces of Bataan, Cebu, Laguna, Tarlac, and Cotabato. Valenzuela is fortunate enough to be the lone city in the country to be the beneficiary of the Introducing New Tools Project (iNTP) of USAID and Stop TB.
Towards Patient-centered Primary Care
In her welcome remarks, Assistant City Health Officer Dr. Marilyn Liwanag shared how the COVID-19 pandemic challenged the health sector, “The recent events truly challenged us all. The pandemic brought restrictions, but at the same time, brought us closer to work for the common good of all”. Dr. Liwanag also lauded the DOH for its KonsulTayo campaign which endeavors to highlight universal access to health care, healthy habits, and trust in primary care providers (PCPs) as means to prevent diseases.
For her part, Health Promotion Bureau Director Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho underscored two (2) aspects that will help secure a “Healthy Pilipinas”: 1) good health literacy and a supportive socio-economic environment that would allow and empower people to take care of themselves, their families, and their community, and 2) an efficient health system that would be able to care for its people when they need its services.
Dr. Ho also reminded the health care workers that, “People must be the center of our care, of our services, and of our programs, not individual diseases… We have to communicate the same to the general public so that they [would] recognize that it is them we are taking care of and it is not a specific disease, virus, or bacteria.”
Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III thanked the health care workers through a video message for their selfless dedication since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 stating, “I also wish to recognize our gallant frontline workers and primary care providers who continue to go the extra mile in providing TB care and services even in the midst of the pandemic,” the Secretary added.
The TB tool package donated during the ceremony is comprised of 38 portable rapid diagnostic machines, eight (8) ultra-portable chest X-ray machines, and Video Observed Treatment (VOT) that can help around 19,000 TB patients. It also includes short-course medications for TB prevention that can benefit 30,000 children and adults.
Through the iNTP initiative, USAID and Stop TB were able to provide these innovative instruments and introduce approaches that will further help test for, identify, address, and prevent TB infection in the country.
The portable rapid diagnostic machine makes use of molecular technology to detect TB from the collected sputum and check for resistance to the known TB drug, Rifampicin. This machine is also equipped with connectivity that allows for the real-time transmission of TB test results to patients, physicians, and referring facilities in as short as one (1) hour.
The ultra-portable chest X-ray is so light and compact that it can fit inside a regular-sized backpack. It is a very handy triaging and screening tool that can be used outside hospitals and clinics and even in venues where no power is available. This type of X-ray comes with a Computer-Aided Detection (CAD) software that utilizes artificial intelligence or AI technology in determining the presence of TB in the body.
While the Video Observed Treatment or VOT is done using mobile phones. VOT is an intervention technology that aids both patient and primary care providers in ensuring that the former strictly adheres to the TB treatment plan and schedule and follows it through to completion.
Under the shorter oral TB Preventive Treatment (TPT) regimen, patients are given a dose of Isoniazid (INH) and Rifampicin (R) daily for a period of three (3) months to stop the TB infection from developing into an active disease.
Reversing the Trend
The COVID-19 pandemic has eroded years’ worth of progress in terms of TB elimination worldwide. In fact, the World Health Organization 2021 Global TB Report showed an increase in deaths due to TB. It also revealed that 6% of the global TB cases were found in the Philippines.
With the world still reeling from the global health pandemic, providing and accessing essential TB services has become more challenging. This has resulted in more undetected and untreated TB cases.
On behalf of the U.S.Government, United States Embassy Chargé d’Affaires (CDA) ad interim Heather Variava assured the Philippines of its support as it carries on its work toward putting an end to TB.
“For almost two years, our partnership has focused on combating the COVID-19 pandemic, but we have not lost sight of ongoing health challenges during this time… Achieving our goals to eliminate TB in the Philippines requires collaboration,” declared the CDA.
According to her, in the 2022 TB Roadmap, USAID committed PhP 860 million to support the Philippine government through the Global Accelerator to End TB Framework.
Mayor REX expressed his gratitude to USAID for being the city’s long-standing partner, “It is always a treat to work with USAID. From our Education Program to our Ease of Doing Business Program, we have been partners of USAID. But in those two programs, it was always content.”
The City Mayor adds, “This is the first time we’re getting hardware that will help us combat the scourge of TB and it is very timely that these equipment are mobile and handy because COVID has changed the paradigm or the mindset of people… Gone are the days where everybody has to come to a health facility, but rather, the health facility comes straight to your doorsteps. So this New Normal tool is really quite useful. Again, thank you to the US Embassy, to the USAID, as well as the private sector partners for this wonderful program and equipment grants.”
Also around to witness the turnover were USAID Office of Health Director Ms. Michelle Lang-Alli, USAID Infectious Disease Team Lead Mr. Tito Rodrigo, USAID Project Management Specialist Mr. Ernesto Bontuyan, TB Innovations and Health Systems Strengthening (TBIHSS) Deputy Chief of Party Dr. Lalaine Mortera, and DOH TB Focal Person Dr. Ana Maria Celina Garfin. District 2 Councilors Niña Lopez, Louie Nolasco, and Chiqui Carreon were also in attendance.
The formal handover of the diagnostic apparatuses and anti-TB medicines was led by United States Embassy CDA Heather Variava. Mayor REX accepted the TB care package for the City, while Director Beverly Ho received the TB equipment on behalf of the Department of Health (DOH).
The donation is made more meaningful as this year marks six decades of developmental partnership between the USAID and the Philippines and 75 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
With the addition of these tools, the capacity of the local health system to screen, detect, and treat, and prevent TB is expected to improve.