Revised Philippines Humanitarian Country Team COVID-19 Response Plan Calls for $96.2 Million to Assist 5 Million People
Initially released on the 3 April 2020, a revision of the Philippines Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) COVID-19 Response Plan was published on the 11 May 2020 and is one of 9 countries added to the May Update of the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan.
The revised Philippines Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) COVID-19 Response Plan is focused on providing health interventions and multi-sectoral assistance to the poorest and most marginalized communities directly impacted by the epidemic, particularly focusing on the safety and wellbeing of women and girls. While the activities in the plan focus on the most immediate challenges, the overall strategy spans until the end of the year and the document will be periodically updated to keep up with the unique and evolving nature of this crisis, mindful of the importance of early recovery and interventions appropriate to the context of a middle income economy characterised by high levels of inequality, marginalized communities and displacement driven by natural hazards and conflict.
Impact of COVID-19
Immediate health impacts on people and systems
As of 11 Mayl, a total of 11,086 confirmed COVID-19 cases including 726 deaths have been reported in the Philippines. Out of the total confirmed cases, 54 per cent are male, with the most affected age group being 30-39 years.
As a lower middle-income country, the Philippines exemplifies the challenges of a health system in transition. The COVID-19 epidemic is adding strain to an already overwhelmed health system in a country with ongoing measles, dengue and polio outbreaks. Responding to COVID-19 may also divert attention and resources for sexual and reproductive health services. Shortages of PPE, ventilators, testing supplies, intensive care and other critical equipment is affecting the ability of health facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. Some hospitals in the National Capital Region have stopped accepting patients as they reached full capacity and/or were unable to provide adequate protection for their staff. The infection rate among healthcare workers - around 13 per cent of total confirmed cases in country - is among the highest in Asia Pacific.
The risk of COVID-19 in Mindanao is of particular concern, given the region’s fragile health system, limited number of testing centers, remote areas and IDP sites with little or no access to health services, compounded by travel restrictions between Mindanao and Metro Manila.
Stringent physical distancing measures and community quarantine have affected polio outbreak response activities and vaccination campaigns are being postponed. There are concerns that at least two million children below two years old might not be protected from vaccine preventable diseases this year.
Indirect impacts on people and systems
The Government has adopted enhanced community quarantine and physical distancing measures including the suspension of schooling, prohibition of mass gatherings, home-isolation whereby movement is limited only to access basic necessities, travel restrictions and a curfew.
According to the Central Bank of the Philippines economic growth is forecast to decline from 6 per cent in 2019 to between zero and minus one per cent in 2020. More than two million workers have been affected, mainly by temporary closures of establishments, such as manufacturing, hotel, food and other tourism-related sectors. These numbers do not include the substantial number of workers in the informal sector, particularly affecting women.
The home quarantine may cause a surge in domestic violence and the Commission on Human Rights has urged the Government to ensure GBV survivors can access legal aid and medical and psychological services.
Response priorities and challenges
Priorities and early achievements
Authorities moved quickly and with determination to halt the spread of the outbreak. The HCT COVID-19 Response Plan was mounted in support of government response efforts and targets 5 million of the most vulnerable people living in COVID-19 hotspot areas as well as those displaced in Mindanao that will require multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance. T
he overall objective of the Plan is to support the government in containing the spread of the outbreak and deterioration of living conditions of those most vulnerable or at risk in affected areas. The response approach is to front-load humanitarian interventions in the first few months before transitioning in the early recovery mode until the end of the year. To ensure the realization of this nexus approach, HCT partners are mounting an inclusive and coordinated response plan, pulling together capacities of UN agencies, international/national NGOs as well as members of civil society, including the private sector.
The HCT COVID-19 response includes interventions to earthquake-affected people in North Cotabato and Davao del Sur and to conflict-affected population in Mindanao to address their specific needs due to the pandemic.
Challenges and impact to operations
Response operations will take place in the context of pre-existing vulnerabilities brought about by conflict and natural disasters. Conflict-affected IDPs, particularly in Mindanao, will remain most at-risk, given the cramped living conditions in transitory sites and limited access to water, WASH facilities and healthcare. The ‘peace dividend’ from the 2019 creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) may not be reaped if the COVID-19 outbreak makes the lives of Bangsamoro people worse, as it may trigger further violence and displacement. Further, the peace negotiation between the Government and the New People’s Army remains fragile, despite their commitment to the COVID-19 cease-fire.
The Philippines is one of the most hazard-prone countries in the world. Averaging over 20 cyclones per year and a high likelihood of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, it is likely that additional mid-scale disasters will occur in the coming months, compounding effects of the COVID-19 emergency.
Physical distancing has resulted in decrease or suspension of non-critical field missions and the suspension of several humanitarian activities due to restrictions on assemblies.
Movement restrictions provide challenges. In most cases, access to communities can be negotiated with individual local governments, particularly in areas where organizations have relief activities.