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28 April 2020, Batangas City, The Philippines -  “I have not gone back home for almost two months,” said Dr. Mario Manaor Jr., a 31-year-old doctor from Batangas Medical Center (BATMC), located in the epicenter of the emergency of the Taal Volcano that erupted more than three months ago. He lives in Cavite, almost 83 kilometers away from the hospital. “I have been sleeping over at my hospital.”  Dr. Mario’s words were filled with vocational conviction, lacking fatigue.  

Dr. Mario never imagined that he would experience this kind of challenge, especially at this early point of his career. “I have to stay so that the junior residents know they have someone to lean on, even if it means I do not go home.” He always makes sure that he is available to the residents when they need his advice, especially if there are complications.

First ashes, and now pandemic too

In January 2020, Dr. Mario was assigned as the Chief Resident of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  That same month, the Taal Volcano erupted, affecting nearly 460,000 people within the 14- kilometer radius from the volcano, including 125,000 women of reproductive age.  Among them, more than 7,000 were expected pregnant when the volcano erupted. 

All the hospitals within the radius became non-functional. “The number of our patients doubled. We accommodated patients from outside our province too, including Laguna and Cavite,” Dr. Mario recalls. 

Then, only a couple of weeks later, on 30 January, the country declared its first case of COVID-19, and his BATMC has been assigned as a COVID-19 center by the Department of Health (DOH). While the hospital will refer normal deliveries to other hospitals, it will still attend to those pregnant women who have comorbidities. 

Consecutive major emergencies cause health and protection supply runouts

The Taal volcano tirelessly spewed smoke and ashes for weeks. The ashes reached as far as Metro Manila, the capital of the country, causing a supply run-out of masks.  The shortage has been compounded further as the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases soar globally and in the Philippines, which has increased the demand for personal protective equipment including face masks, and makes these items even harder to acquire.  

“No matter how hard you exert efforts, if you lack a facility or medicine or equipment, you cannot really cure your patients,” Dr. Mario voices out. “When you as a medical service provider do not wear a mask or PPE, your patients may get anxious,  thinking that you are carrying the Coronavirus. We don’t want to reach a point where a patient will be too scared to go to a hospital because of that anxiety.  At the same time, we don’t want to see a situation where we as doctors will be too scared to deliver babies because of fear of getting sick due to lack of equipment.  More importantly, we cannot spread the virus to our patients, colleagues, and family.”

Batangas Medical Center welcomes the UNFPA team to help set up the emergency tents and Dignity Kits. Photo credit: Dr. Mario Manaor Jr.

Leaving No One Behind

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the Philippines was among the first which provided masks to these front-liners in provincial and district hospitals, rural health units, and other medical facilities in Batangas. The donation of the masks on 20 March is part of UNFPA’s continuous efforts to support the families affected by the Taal Volcano eruption, done together with the DOH Center for Health Development (CHD) Region IVA, also in coordination with the Provincial Department of Health Office (PDOHO), the Provincial Health Office (PHO) and the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) in Batangas. “We agree with UNFPA that, to protect the very vulnerable pregnant and lactating mothers, we need to ensure infection control in the hospitals, including protecting the health workers, ” says Dr. Emerita Perez, Family Health Cluster Head of DOH - CHD Region IVA. 

“An OB doctor can’t tell a pregnant mother, ‘Wait, you cannot give birth right now, because there is a disaster or a pandemic.’  Pregnancies don’t stop, and deliveries cannot wait.  So, in whatever situation, we have the responsibility to ensure clean and safe deliveries and good health of mothers and babies,” underscores Dr. Mario.

A week after the contribution of masks, UNFPA also delivered emergency tents to the Batangas Province, to expand hospital spaces for maternity care, protection of women and children, and triage for COVID-19 response. In addition, UNFPA provided hygiene kits as well to the pregnant and lactating women in the hospital. 

Health workers cannot do it alone

“UNFPA’s support was appreciated as very timely.  The emergency tents will help ensure the continuity of health services.  The tents not only gave the much needed additional space and equipment for the COVID-19 patients,” added Dr. Perez of DOH-CHD Region IVA.  

“We feel upgraded. No matter what our challenges are, whether it is Taal or COVID-19, we are committed to overcoming them.  But it is more achievable when you have a support system. Thank you, UNFPA, for giving us a sense of relief and hope,” Dr. Mario smiled behind the mask. 

Dr. Mario looks forward to going back home and seeing his family.  But for now, he feels gratified just to send his patients safely to their homes. 



-- Angeli "Ann" Regala, Media and Communications Analyst