Gov't looking into funding free masks for poor Filipinos

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 17) — The government is looking into a suggestion to provide free face masks to urban poor families as preventive measures are ramped up.

Physician Tony Leachon, who once served as special adviser for the government's COVID-19 task force, said Friday that providing masks to poor communities would do a lot in slowing down COVID-19 infections, which have so far reached 61,266 cases in the country.

"The strategy right now is to go to the preventive side because the bigger pie is about 85 percent, put all your money there and all the infrastructure related to that. We have to prevent it para hindi sila ma-admit sa ospital [so that they do not have to be admitted to the hospital]," Leachon told CNN Philippines' The Source, saying preventive interventions are cheaper than treating the sick.

READ: Masks are effective only if you wear them properly. Here's the right (and wrong) way

"Akala natin hindi nagbe-behave ‘yung mga mahihirap. Eh pagkain nga walang mabili, mask pa kaya? They want to wear masks, we have to provide access. Dapat libre natin ang masks, particular sa urban poor, because the middle class and upper class can afford it," he added, noting that infections are quick to spread in cramped residential areas and informal settler communities, where social distancing is hard to enforce.

[Translation: We think the poor do not behave properly. The problem is, they don't even have money to buy food, what more for masks?They want to wear masks, we have to provide access. We should give free masks, especially for the urban poor, because the middle class and upper class can afford it.]

The coronavirus disease is spread through small droplets when people infected with the virus cough or sneeze. Face masks are said to prevent the transmission of the disease by keeping the nose and mouth covered.

RELATED: Are cloth masks effective as protection from the novel coronavirus?

Leachon added that President Rodrigo Duterte was receptive to the idea when he made the suggestion during a meeting with task force members last Wednesday. He said Duterte ordered Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to compute how much it will cost to provide about 20 million masks in Metro Manila, which would be about ₱300 million.

Private donors should also zero in on prevention strategies more than donating personal protective equipment to be worn by health workers, he added, saying the thrust should be to stop as many people from getting confined due to the disease.