USAID supports Bulacan’s Tuberculosis response amid pandemic

United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its TB Platforms Project, has been working with Department of Health (DOH) Central Luzon since 2018. One of the project’s technical assistance to DOH Region 3 is the provision of capacity building workshops with hands-on mentoring component for the implementation of Tuberculosis (TB) programs in government hospitals.

In Bulacan, one of the dynamic partners of USAID’s TB Platforms is Rogaciano Mercado Memorial Hospital (RMMH). The project team collaborates with RMMH’s medical team and the local TB staff in line with ensuring quality TB services and treatment especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

Aquilina Cruz, RMMH TB Nurse Coordinator, shared how they are coping up with the challenges of the pandemic.

“We have to learn how to protect ourselves so we don’t get infected by COVID-19 as we continue to fulfill our duties like attending to patients who come to the TB clinic for consultation and treatment. At the same time, literally visiting our enlisted TB patients in their houses to deliver their advance one month supply of TB medicines because they cannot come to the facility,” Cruz said. 

“The risks are high, we only learned about comprehensive infection prevention and control from USAID. We attended their webinars then shared our learnings to our colleagues,” she added.

Cruz along with the other TB staff in RMMH were reported to have volunteered to personally bring the TB medicines to patients specially those who are senior citizens and are not allowed to go out of their residences due to the community quarantine. Cruz expressed her dedication as a TB nurse coordinator but also shared her fears.

“One day during my regular duty hours, I learned that one of our drivers tested positive for COVID-19. I was alarmed since I have been with him during the distribution of TB medicines. So I needed to do self-quarantine. Praise God, we are both safe now!” she recalled. 

USAID’s TB Platforms continuous to provide remote mentoring to RMMH not only on infection prevention and control for TB and COVID-19 but also on how healthcare workers can encourage patients to adhere to treatment amid the pandemic. 

Its regional team also coordinates with RMMH regarding continuous monitoring of patients as they continue to provide communication channels that encourage families to provide the necessary social and emotional support so that they will be able to complete their treatment amid the pandemic.

USAID’s TB Platforms met with Governor Daniel Fernando early this year to request commitment to include tuberculosis in his priority agenda. Fernando expressed his full support to USAID’s TB Platforms and committed to push for the provincial legislative agenda focused on TB response encouraging all 24 mayors of the province to work on the drafting of local TB Ordinance highlighting the necessary annual budget allocation for sustainable TB services in the province.

Since the start of the pandemic, USAID’s TB Platforms has been closely coordinating with the Office of the Governor and the Provincial Health Office. RMMH is one of the hospitals under the Office of the Governor which continue to provide quality TB services even during the community quarantine. To date, the hospital is attending to 120 Drug Susceptible TB patients and 78 Drug Resistant TB patients.

USAID’s TB Platforms also works with TB HEALS, a patient-support group based in RMMH. Former TB patients and their families continue to provide support to newly enrolled patients and encourage their families to provide all the needed support to finish treatment.

Since March this year, USAID’s TB Platforms and the Philippine Information Agency works together for the information dissemination campaign of inspiring stories about TB response amid COVID-19. PIA is the major partner of USAID’s TB Platforms in its social and behavior change strategy for strengthened TB response during the pandemic.