As expected of the country’s national university, the University of the Philippines has been among the main institutions at the forefront of the battle against the coronavirus. The spirit of honor, excellence and compassion shines brightly among faculty, students, alumni, and staff across constituent universities nationwide.
There is the selfless courage of those who continue to serve daily in the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), or as PGH Director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi aptly puts it, the “people giving hope.” Despite a directive to pull out interns from medical colleges, about 214 PGH interns have volunteered to stay on duty, assisting and augmenting the hospital’s health workers. Despite the danger, PGH has accepted the appointment as one of the country’s COVID-19 referral hospitals.
Aiming for more tests
In the search for solutions, there are minds hard at work at the UP National Institutes of Health and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC). Scientist Dr. Raul Destura has called on laboratories and hospitals for proper equipment to test their locally developed SARS-COV 2 detection kits. According to UP’s National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, the search for equipment and qualified personnel to properly conduct tests will be in preparation for the expanded testing of the Department of Health (DOH). Completion of field tests over a two- to three-week period may allow these more affordable test kits to be readily available.
Increasing the testing capacity for coronavirus in other regions has also been stressed by UP Mindanao’s (UPM) PGC. Its director, virology professor Dr. Lyre Anni Murao, has proposed a diagnostic program for free testing of COVID-19. Currently in Mindanao, only the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) is capable of running the test. The proposal includes building a biosafety molecular lab attached to a hospital that will not only help the region against COVID-19 but can eventually help against other infectious and emerging diseases.
Ideas and more
Over at the UP Diliman College of Engineering (CoE), a meeting of minds converged to find engineering solutions to the virus outbreak. Five feasible proposals with immediate benefits were identified.
The first project pools together all 3D printers across the university system for the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Second is the development of a prototype adult ventilator, as COVID-19 is essentially a respiratory illness. Third is a movement tracker in conjunction with government agencies and telcos for registered Persons Under Investigation. The tracking solution will help assess possible contamination in an area.
Fourth is the creation of a mobile plasma treatment apparatus for the disinfection of hospital walls, ERs, walkways, PPEs, health utilities like air filters, and office equipment. Last is a prototype cleaning chamber based on ultraviolet exposure that can disinfect used PPEs.
Project implementation will be conducted in coordination with the UP Engineering Research and Development Foundation, Inc. (UPERDFI) and UP Alumni Engineers (UPAE). The UPERDFI has called for donations as the projects will have a total cost of over P1.6 million. The cause has led to generous donations in both cash and kind, including the donation of electronic equipment and devices for prototype and fabrication works.
Dr. Enrique Ostrea, Jr. (UP Med’65), patent holder of a ventilator for newborns, has waived his right to the patent to shorten the prototype development of the proposed adult ventilator.
Facing the shortages
With the shortage of masks and safety equipment, UP units in the Visayas have also used their creativity and resourcefulness to help. The UP Cebu Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab), built for the Product Design program in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Cebu, has used a 3D printer and laser cutter to come up with about 100 face shields. Additional materials from DTI are expected for more face shields to be made.
Students at UP Visayas (UPV) in Miagao and Iloilo campuses have initiated a project to mass-produce alternative face shields. Based on a design from a health worker at the Iloilo Mission Hospital, the face shield is made from Velcro straps, acetate sheets, craft foam and PVC covers. Both campuses are accepting donations of materials including adhesives, double-sided tapes, staples and staplers.
The students have so far produced 300 face shields that have been distributed to hospitals across Iloilo. They hope to make many more for the Western Visayas Sanitarium, which is being eyed as a COVID-19 center for the province.
Volunteers were mobilized from among many dormers still in the UPV campuses. Because of travel restrictions to Manila and other provinces, about 174 students remain stranded. Fellow students and alumni groups have been donating food and supplies, especially as the Miagao campus is about 42 kms south of Iloilo City.
UPV, through its Philippine Genome Center Visayas, has also transferred its PCT Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine and its Digital Dry Bath to the Western Visayas Medical Center. With these transfers, Iloilo City becomes better equipped to diagnose the disease. An alumni group from UPV has also met with government officials to push for the establishment of an accredited coronavirus testing center in the city.
In the meantime, UP Los Baños (UPLB) has experienced a similar plight to UPV and has appealed for help. The campus has been providing supplies to 700 students in university dorms and another 900 in off-campus housing facilities. The university needs at least P2 million a week to help feed the students.
UPLB recently concluded Oplan Hatid in partnership with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) 2nd Battalion, the UP Rural High School Alumni Group and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. Some 94 UPLB students were reunited with their families in CALABARZON and across NCR.
Some UPLB dormers, such as those from the Women’s Residence Hall, have decided to be productive about their stay. Difficult as it is to find food and supplies, the residents have managed to make 100 DIY face shields in a project initiated by the School of Environmental Science and Management. Beta Sigma-UPLB chapter has called for volunteers to make more face shields as their group provides instruction guides and raw materials.
Aside from face shields, the UP community has been looking at other equipment. A group of designers, engineers and chemists from UP Diliman have put together a prototype COVID-19 decontamination tent. The group, called SaniTents PH, said it could guide hospitals and other establishments who want to increase their safety protocols against the disease. The booth can be constructed in one and a half days, and features a diffuser that sprays disinfectant from head to toe.
SaniTents PH has released the design for the general public, so that it can be freely copied or modified for use.
A listening ear
The UP Diliman-Psychological Services (UPD PsycServ), established to provide accessible mental health and psychosocial support services for students, faculty and staff, has offered free therapy services for frontliners.
The organization encourages these overworked and stressed-out medical staff to contact 0906-3743466 via text or Viber for free tele-psychotherapy. The UPD PsycServ is composed of licensed psychologists and experienced clinical practitioners completing graduate degrees in Clinical Psychology. A listening ear is another way to support our harried health care workers.
There are many other stories of the generosity of the entire UP community, a generosity that extends from thoughts and ideas to concrete action.
An alumna, who wishes to remain anonymous, continues to send cash donations for food, medicines and vitamin C to students still in UPLB. Journalist Kara David has driven around the Diliman campus to distribute face masks and alcohol to UP workers, including food sellers, street sweepers and security guards. Shamcey Supsup-Lee, national director of the Miss Universe Philippines Organization and Architecture alumna, has been donating food to Diliman dormers, as well as to the National Children’s Hospital.
UP Baguio has distributed 114 care packs containing food, hygiene kits and medicines to students. Many remain on campus due to the Luzon lockdown and need donations for food and supplies.
Nowhere to Go But UP, a volunteer group supporting UP sports teams, has been steadily raising funds for a number of healthcare frontliners that include hospitals, AFP checkpoints, the MMDA Rescue Hotline Group, the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine, and the Philippine Genome Center. Their projects include Oplan Hatid for some 272 Diliman dormers, and more recently, a Canon Digital Masterclass series that will allow participants to donate to UP.
The needs are great, and the danger is real. But it is in these situations that UP rises to the ideals that embody its purpose. Give to UP. Donations in cash, kind or volunteerism will be contributions to the welfare not only of our community but of our nation as well.