EIGHT medical facilities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are being positioned as testing laboratories for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), including one each in its three island provinces.

One facility, the Cotabato Regional Medical Center in Cotabato City, is at stage 2 of the of accreditation process by the Department of Health (DoH).

Under the second of five stages, the facility is up for review by a team from the DoH, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and World Health Organization.

The rest of the facilities are at the initial stage, which consists of “self-assessment” for equipment, manpower, and management system.

These are the Mindanao State University and Amai Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur; Maguindanao Provincial Hospital and Cotabato Sanitarium in Maguindanao; Datu Halun Sakilan Memorial Hospital in Tawi-Tawi; Sulu Provincial Hospital; and Lamitan District Hospital in Basilan.

Bangsamoro Transition Authority Minority Leader Laisa Masuhud-Alamia, in a webinar on Tuesday hosted by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said increased testing, along with contact tracing, is one of the key components in mitigating the panemic.

“This is where right now are having some challenges and difficulties. We need to increase testing and contact tracing, otherwise we won’t know who among the population are actually afflicted, who among them are carriers,” she said.

As of April 6, the region had eight confirmed COVID-19 cases, with seven in Lanao del Sur and one in Maguindanao.

Of the total, three have recovered, three died, one in hospital, and one under home quarantine.

The region, as of Monday, had 254 persons under investigation (PUI) for the disease and 7,785 under monitoring (PUM).

Ms. Alamia also noted that in a region where medical services are weaker than in the rest of the country, steps must simultaneously be taken to improve the sector.

“Considering that in the Philippines and in particular in the BARMM, we have a problem on our health care system capacity, so we need to look at setting up interventions, putting up facilities to raise the bar,” she said.

BARMM Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Asnin Pendatun said the region’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19 is awaiting final approval of a long-term contingency plan in response to the pandemic.

“We need to be proactive… We are not expecting or hoping that the situation will worsen or be prolonged, but in the event that this happens, at least we have plans that are ready,” Mr. Pendatun, the IATF spokesperson, said in a live-streamed briefing Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, several local leaders in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao are using thematic maps to track areas affected by COVID-19 alongside geophysical hazards, and threats of conflict.

The maps “show the spatial features of provincial, municipal, and barangay boundaries, road and river networks, geohazard vulnerabilities, and conflict flashpoints,” according to International Alert Philippines, which assisted in the producing the tools.

International Alert Philippines Country Manager Nikki de la Rosa, in a statement, said the maps were crafted from the outputs generated during a series of Resource Use and Management Planning (RUMP) workshops conducted in 2019.

Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Officer Najib Zacaria of Marantao, Lanao del Sur said the maps have helped them identify PUM and PUI, plan the distribution of relief goods, and allow medical workers to continuously monitor the health situation.

“The maps also ensured that we were covering all the communities in our outreach areas, thereby preventing complaints and disputes,” Mr. Zacaria is quoted in the International Alert statement.

The one-year old BARMM government marked its first anniversary last March 29 amid the COVID-19 crisis, foregoing planned celebratory events.

BARMM Chief Minister Ahod ‘Al Haj’ Murad Ebrahim, in his anniversary message, called on the region’s residents to “set aside conflicts” and unite in battling the outbreak. — Marifi S. Jara