‘Transformation’ in a pandemic

CONFRONTED by a deadly coronavirus that so far has infected millions around the globe, a good majority of Filipinos now have become more conscious not only of their health and well-being, but also their spirituality as they seek divine intervention to avert a contagion—perhaps of biblical proportions—from becoming much worse, a study has revealed.

The PhilCare Community Quarantine Wellness Index shows that more than a third, or 76.7 percent, of its standard sample size of 800 respondents pray, well at least more frequently, than they did before the community quarantines (CQ) were put in place.

“Bawal Muna ang Tambay at Tagay,” says a sign posted outside a house in Barangay Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City, enjoining everyone not to loiter and drink. Amid restrictions on movement imposed by the government to prevent the spread of the disease, more people resorted to praying and exercise than to smoking and drinking to cope with the pandemic.

According to lead researcher Dr. Fernando Paragas of the College of Mass Communication at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, there is no one universal or uniform way to cope with the pandemic.

He bared that people do a mix of activities to adjust through quarantines, which in this research are categorized either as good or bad.

The first three focused positive coping mechanisms pertain to the spirit, the mind and the body, while the last two are centered on negative vices such as smoking and drinking.

Researchers saw the former group as the silver lining amid restrictions on movement imposed by the government to prevent the spread of the disease.

Wearing a mask to protect herself from the deadly coronavirus, a woman prays at the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace in Caloocan City. According to legend, in 1412, the Virgin Mary appeared to a local woman in Faenza, Italy. Mary was holding broken arrows symbolizing protection against God’s wrath and promised an end to the plagues.

“Spiritual activities like praying were the only activity performed by all respondents in ‘more frequently’ (manner at 30.3 percent and) ‘much more frequently’ [at 46.4 percent],” he noted.

Such religious act has been often practiced by the respondents compared to mental (much more frequently at 19.8 percent and more frequently at 31.4 percent) and physical exercises (much more frequently at 19.1 percent and more frequently at 25.7 percent), the report added.

Over two-thirds of respondents say that they seldom smoke (more rarely at 15.7 percent and much more rarely at 50.4 percent), as almost 80 percent indicate they have been hardly drinking liquor, or alcoholic products (more rarely at 18.5 percent and much more rarely at 60.9 percent), according to the study.

“The ongoing pandemic naturally makes everyone feel helpless. What’s good about the findings is that we saw how Filipinos turned to spirituality—which is a positive coping mechanism—in order to deal with the anxiety. It is interesting that vices only played a minor role in helping Filipinos through the ordeal of quarantine,” said PhilCare Associate Medical Director Dr. Ultra Tan.

Resaidents of Bonifacio Street, in Barangay Dela Paz, Antipolo City, add humor to their lockdown experience.

Understanding the crisis

BY and large, Filipinos are very much aware of the pandemic that they are facing nowadays—the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Based on the self-reported knowledge index of the research, Paragas said that their perceived level of understanding about the guideline for various CQ types is very high at 71.5 percent.

This is clearly represented by the calculated 1.45 composite score earned by all the respondents.

From the respective rules of each type of the lockdowns enforced in the National Capital Region (NCR) and other areas nationwide, the participants are very knowledgeable on those of the enhanced community quarantine, or ECQ (71.4 percent), general CQ (63.1 percent) and extended ECQ (61.4 percent).

A piece of paper containing a prayer is seen on a police helmet at a community quarantine checkpoint in Quezon City, April 1, 2020.

On preventive measures

THE study’s second index is prevention practices,  which measures how well the respondents follow measures so as not to contract Covid-19.

Across the board, at least 91 percent of them agree that they abide by the preventive measures in place, according to the lead researcher.

From the list of “must” good practices to be followed at the onset of this health emergency, survey participants strongly agree that they wear a mask in public places (94.4 percent), practice physical distancing outdoors (89.5 percent), and leave the house only when needed (86.3 percent).

There are more people who use alcohol, or alcogel (92.3 percent) than those who wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds (88.3 percent).

“It is when returning home that we see a decline in the prevention practices,” Paragas said, noting that only about two-thirds change clothes when coming from outside the house (69.5 percent), or disinfect items they buy outside when running on some errands (68.6 percent).

An elderly woman reacts to a masked figure put up to remind residents to stay home at Barangay Addition Hills in Mandaluyong City. According to research, most people are not comfortable in moving about while their barangay is in community quarantine

Fear of going outside

MOBILITY mindset, the study’s sub-index on the level of feeling comfortable in moving out while under CQ, is not quite impressive, the survey shows.

“This is very important as we start moving again with the relaxation of CQ protocols,” he pointed out. “Once respondents are positively confident about their level of knowledge and adherence to Covid-19 preventive measures, we now see the aspects of their wellness start to waver.”

From the research outcomes, majority of the respondents say they are not comfortable in moving about while their barangay is in CQ.

Their discomfort is strongest with going to the hospital (not comfortable at 19.5 percent and not very comfortable at 47.9 percent), followed by going to work (not comfortable at 25.3 percent and not very comfortable at 34.8 percent), or financial establishments (not comfortable at 22.1 percent and not very comfortable at 22.4 percent).

The only place they are at ease going to is the supermarket—with almost half of the respondents (very comfortable at 11.6 percent and comfortable at 35.5 percent).

Causes of concern

REELING from the effects of the pandemic, the respondents appeared to be very anxious at the time of the interview, Paragas noted.

This is apparent in the Stress Points index, where 77.4 percent of them are very worried about the things concerning Covid-19.

Participants strongly worry about the health of their loved ones (81.4 percent), about the possibility of a “second wave” (82.3 percent)), and of getting Covid-19 (82.5 percent).

About three quarters of them, on the other hand, fret further when they hear about the number of cases (74.4 percent) and getting sick from diseases other than Covid-19 (75.4 percent).

Around two-thirds are very bothered about their family’s budget (65.3 percent), or being prepared should they get Covid-19 (63.5 percent).

Over half, meanwhile, worry about where to get food (58.5 percent) or where to buy medicines (54.8 percent).

Overall pulse

GENERALLY, Filipinos’ state of wellness amid the ensuing pandemic is considered average as clearly shown in the respondents’ overall composite score of 2.82.

“[It’s] being neither good nor bad,” the lead researcher said. “Respondents performed well in doing safety measures against getting Covid-19 and knowing the CQ guidelines. Conversely, their scores show that they are concerned about their thinking and feeling. They have [comfortability issue] regarding being mobile during the pandemic, or [have] many worries about their family and health.”

Paragas and his team found the scores earned by the participants are not universal. He explained: “Respondents in EECQ report better overall wellness scores. Those with more resources, as indicated perhaps by their income, education, occupation, and having an OFW [overseas Filipino worker] in the household, are better in terms of their state of wellness. While our scale is the simplest and most parsimonious that you can cull from our nominees of Likert Scale items, the two most important predictors of wellness are respondents’ stress points and mobility mindset, followed by prevention practices at third place.”

Among the 28 statements implied in the research, the 10 most powerful predictors of CQ Wellness are as follows: Worry over food, comfort in going to the supermarket, disinfecting purchases, mental exercising, worry over getting Covid-19, washing hands properly, smoking, comfort in going to the hospital, knowledge of ECQ guidelines, and spiritual activities.

“They are a combination of practices, knowledge, worries, mobility mindset, and coping mechanisms, indicating that wellness is indeed a holistic concept,” he stressed.

Key takeaways

APPARENTLY, there appears to be a new form of wellness nowadays because of the unprecedented health crisis the entire world faces today.

“National Wellness Indices cover physical, mental, nutritional, psychological, financial and medical factors. We see the same factors at play during CQ, but the measures for them have changed because of the survivalist aspect of the pandemic,” said Paragas.

He noted, for instance, that nutrition becomes less about eating a balanced diet, but about worries over where to get food and the level of comfort in going to the grocery.

Other than getting surplus monies, or investment, financial is now also about maintaining the same income before the pandemic could cover the family’s necessities, as medical, apart from having regular medical and dental checkups, currently espouses the level of peace in going to the hospital, or drugstore, as well as other health concerns in the family, he added.

“We have a long road ahead of us in terms of addressing mental health concerns,” Paragas said. “We need to make people conscious of the holistic nature of coping with the crisis…. The centrality of socioeconomic indicators across the main index and the sub-indices shows we are all experiencing the pandemic, but according to the resources we have at our disposal. Support mechanisms are, thus, particularly important even after the relaxing of CQ protocols.”

Moving results

TAKING a cue from the results of the study, health-care maintenance organization PhilCare is moved to further raise the ante of providing quality service to the people.

PhilCare Vice President for Sales and Marketing Raymund Tiangco said the research outcomes just affirm their belief that they have to be responsive to the needs of the times, from the products and services they offer to be in step with their customers’ sentiments, both online and offline.

“I think the survey really points us in the right direction of what those things are and what to recognize moving forward. So there’s still a lot of things that we can learn from the survey and we can expect that PhilCare will still be continuing its very adaptable stance on the pandemic and Covid-19,” he pointed out.

The company has blazed a trail in the use of prepaid health cards in the market in 2014. Continuously, the firm is taking on new innovations by leveraging on technology that improves the delivery of quality healthcare to the public.

The HMO launched its Wellness From Home workout videos as the lockdown across Luzon started in March. The videos, uploaded on PhilCare’s Facebook page, featured exercises taught by fitness experts to help followers achieve optimal wellness despite being unable to go out to exercise. The videos have so far reached 500,000 people, of whom 350,000 have viewed them.

PhilCare also offers its DigiConsult service, a timely response to the study’s findings wherein members need not leave their homes to be able to consult a doctor on the phone anytime. All they have to do is use their HeyPhil app, which can be downloaded on Google Play and the App Store. The firm is also working to have the service available to non-members the soonest.

For public health education, PhilCare commissioned studies measuring the overall state of being happy, healthy and successful among Filipinos in 2014 and again in 2019. Its just-released report was done in two phases. First was through phone calls to 400 randomly picked respondents from May 11 to 14—the final stretch of the EECQ in Metro Manila and several other areas. Another 400 were interviewed from May 16 to 20—the first days of the modified ECQ in Metro Manila and other areas.

“We believe that the findings of the PhilCare Community Quarantine Wellness Index serve as an eye opener to employers and policy-makers on how responsive they should be toward their respective stakeholders given that our way of life has dramatically changed. With these learnings, we hope to work together with various sectors in order for us to continue living healthy even amid the pandemic,” said PhilCare President and Chief Executive Officer Jaeger L. Tanco.

Image Credits: AP/Aaron Favila, Bernard Testa

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