Pandemic shines light on country’s brightest minds

| Written by UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team

UP System executive vice-president Dr. Ted Herbosa, one of the team leaders of the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team, leads the team’s exploratory meeting with QC Government’s City Health Office, March 20. Photo from Dr. Emmanuel Luna.

 

If there’s one other way the health crisis has changed the world as we know it, it’s seeing Filipino scientists and scholars operating at the forefront of managing a global threat. For far too long, their advances and contributions fell to the back pages of the news, if at all. Not this time. Their heroics are happening in hospitals and laboratories, in schoolrooms closed for classes and out in the open,as our brightest minds tackle this deadly disease.

Take the brain trust that is the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team. Organized just four days after the ECQ, the University of the Philippines gathered some 200 professors, researchers, alumni and students from across the entire UP System, from Baguio to Mindanao. Specializations included epidemiology, emergency medicine, public health, veterinary medicine, computer science, data science, disaster science, mathematics, statistics, economics, geography, public administration and governance, social work and community development, and political science.By utilizing this wide range of expertise, the team sought to cover different aspects of the pandemic.

Among its recent contributions to the fight has been the Outbreak Threshold model, which can help design localized community quarantine protocols for LGUs. The response team has drafted a number of policy notes based on the results of their studies, including recommendations for a graduated activation of the ECQ that depends on the level of risk per area.

 

Dr. Jomar Fajardo Rabajante (top) and Dr. Peter Julian Cayton (bottom), members of the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team, presenting their respective projections, analysis, and post-ECQ recommendations in a meeting with international and national civil society organizations on 27 April 2020. Screenshot via Skype, c/o Dr. Kristoffer Berse.

 

While much of their data are from the Department of Health, the team has been vocal about gaining more open data to refine their studies, urging: “We have to gather and share as much data as possible, apply the best science available, and ultimately listen to what the numbers could tell us.” The team has had to reach out to LGUs for updates on COVID-19 cases in different localities to refine their studies through cross-validation of methodologies and outputs among scientists.

Aside from working with national and local government units, the UP response team has been collaborating with academics from the National University of Singapore, University of California Davis and University College London as well as local academic institutions.

On the international front, the team has joined the Forecast-based Warning, Analysis and Response Network (FOREWARN), an organization of academics, scientists and humanitarian workers. The network aims to mitigate disasters and enable early humanitarian action, providing the team with opportunities for mutual consultations and improved data-gathering.

 

Press briefing at Malacañang Palace, with Dr. Alfredo Mahar Lagmay, one of the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team’s leaders, presenting the findings of the team, April 21, 2020. Photo from Dr. Kristoffer Berse.

 

Team members have also given presentations to the President and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF). Given their highly specialized competencies, members have been called to join the IATF Technical Working Group on Anticipatory and Forward Planning.

To better inform the general public, the team has also redesigned their studies into animation, video formats and flashcards to be more accessible. Policy notes are now available in English as well as Tagalog, Ilokano, Bikol Sentral, Waray, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Aklanon, Kapampangan, Itawis, Chavacano de Zamboanga, Meranaw, and Bahasa Sug. The team’s works and research, including the regularly updated case overview, are accessible on their website, endcov.ph.

The work of groups like the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team will help reshape life and society post-lockdown, and further down the line, post-COVID-19. Guided by their mandate to serve the Filipino people, the U.P. team reflects the persistence and determination of what our best minds can achieve under such troubling circumstances.

 

The UP Resilience Institute’s YANI, the COVID-19 chatbot, featured on ANC, April 19. Photo from Dr. Kristoffer Berse.
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