CL stakeholders discuss TB treatment amid crisis

SAN FERNANDO CITY, Pampanga,- Around 312 government and private sector stakeholders participated Thursday in a webinar focused on ensuring continuous tuberculosis (TB) services amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Entitled “Business-not-as-usual”, it was organized by the TB Platforms Project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with Department of Health (DOH) Region 3.

“This webinar tackled issues faced by the community healthcare workers providing TB treatment amid COVID-19 pandemic. Resource persons from USAID’s TB Platforms, PBSP AccessTB and World Health Organization explained the many challenges faced by the health sector related to TB response amid COVID-19,” USAID’s TB Platforms Project Social and Behavior Change Communication Specialist Diwata Paredes said.

Despite the government’s provision of free TB medicines for enlisted patients, monitoring patients’ adherence to TB treatment still has bottlenecks especially during the community quarantine where patients cannot visit the health facility daily to take their medication.

Since mid-March, DOH approved the distribution of one month supply of TB medicines.

Patients or family members claimed their medicines at the nearest barangay health stations or health facility then report treatment progress weekly to the assigned TB nurse coordinators.

“But the COVID-19 crisis crippled the economic activities of Filipinos, affecting the families of TB patients as well. They have limited income and lack of transportation became a hindrance to visit the treatment facility,” Paredes added.

In some areas, community healthcare workers volunteer to personally deliver medicine supplies to their patients, arrange meet-ups in between checkpoints or hire vehicles just to ensure that TB patients will not miss a day without medicine.

During the webinar, USAID’s TB Platforms Health Specialist Romano Garcia shared how their project is maximizing the use of digital application dubbed as ConnecTB in Antipolo and Polillo Island in Quezon.

“Using ConnecTB,  nurse coordinators and TB staff in satellite treatment centers were able to promote treatment adherence remotely and efficiently,” he said.

It serves as a tool for healthcare workers to monitor drug sensitive/drug resistant TB patients on treatment.

The platform also helps them observe treatment taken by enlisted TB patients, track side effects and adverse events and provide real-time and geo-clustering of patients for support.

“USAID’s TB Platforms is trying to promote the use of ConnecTB in partner facilities to help frontliners manage their workload and provide contact management especially during the critical times of COVID-19,” he added.

70 Filipinos die of TB everyday even before COVID-19. Patients are of higher risks to get infected of COVID-19.

USAID’s TB Platforms continues to provide technical assistance to DOH Region 3 and its partner facilities. It will provide remote mentoring on strengthening TB response amid COVID-19.

Meanwhile, USAID’s TB Platforms is working with #EndTB Ambassador and Miss Philippines Earth 2019 Janelle Lazo Tee in promoting public health information for TB and COVID-19 and using social media platforms to reduce the stigma of both diseases.

During the webinar, she cited that she is one of the convenors of QuaranTeam, a group of private individuals raising funds for frontliners affected by COVID-19.

“I also launched a Vlog and I will use my social media platforms in advocating TB response amid COVID-19, including the promotion of ConnecTB as an innovative tool for remote monitoring of TB treatment adherence especially during the pandemic,” she shared.

Moving forward, USAID’s TB Platforms will host webinar sessions for media professionals online with communication outreach for TB and COVID-19 response.

The project started to collaborate with regional information offices under the Philippine Information Agency.