Death of a mendicant’s 2-year-old child due to Covid-19; Brgy 23-C epicenter of infection

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DAVAO CITY — Barangay 23-C popularly known for its Isla Verde and Mini-Forest communities, is a village along the coastline of the city. It is near the business center, was once called Poblacion with Luz Kinilaw as its best landmark, a most frequented local restaurant in the city’s tourist destinations.

Most of the village residents are either fisher folks, traders, while there those considered players of the underground economy (from selling pirated DVDs, used clothing and to every single item which one can buy at P10 up). A few residents also own vast business interests like retailing, however, the same communities also play host to some of the city’s street mendicants.

The village is home to some 20,000 individuals says Barangay Captain Alimodin “Wating” Usman. Citing the 2019 population survey, the village chief said that majority of its constituents belong to the Moro tribe while one of its small clusters (Purok) also called Purok 4-C is the abode for another 500 individuals belonging to another ethnolinguistic tribe known as Badjao or the sea gypsies.

One of its residents, Arani Hajiba, estimated to be 24 years old and mother of the first coronavirus casualty in their village. The child was two-year-old when she died due to coronavirus last March according to Usman.

“Yong anak niya ang unang namatay sa Covid-19 dito, (The first death of Covid-19 here was her child),” village chief Usman told Newsline.

Usman recalled, it was late March when her child was confined at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) but died days after her confinement. A swab test was taken which showed the child died due to coronavirus, Usman said.

Arani was home already when health authorities took her for swab test but she left the SPMC (it was her first escape) due to hunger.

The Purok leader of Arani’s village told Usman that Arani spent days at the SPMC and waited for the result, but hunger prompted her to leave the hospital. “Naglakad lang sya galing sa hospital, kasi walang magpasakay sa kanya wala kasi syang pera” (She walked to reach her home because she did not have money), he narrated.

Health authorities conducted a massive contact tracing on Arani’s case, her husband included.

On April 22, 37 residents, all from Purok-C, the place where Arani’s family also lives, were taken to an isolation facility.

But days after and when contact tracing was undertaken, Arani was again taken with her husband and brought to an isolation center where she sneaked out on May 9.

During the operations, other residents nearby sneaked out the city via motorboat and almost reached the shorelines of the Island Garden City of Samal, but was intercepted by personnel of the Philippine Coast Guard and the local government.

Everyone was isolated since then, said Usman including Arani who was brought to the Queensland isolation facility.

Arani Hajiba was the girl who escaped from the isolation facility for six days and went into hiding until she was found by Talomo police inside an abandoned truck near the police station and the Matina Pangi river.

On Sunday night, Usman said of the 37, she was informed that 13 according to Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio were tested positive while the Covid-19 Davao region tracker released that 15 tested positive from the same village.

When news broke off that all the 15 individuals who tested positive of Coronavirus-19, the residents cried foul, saying those who tested positive have long been transferred to the isolation facility.

Diaspora.- This photo is grabbed from a video uploaded by Barangay 23-C, taken on April 22. In the video Barangay Captain Usman (in white t-shirt) assured his constituents “Mobalik mo diri, mobalik mo, pa-check-up lang ta, pakaonon mo didto (You will be back, you will be back, you will be checked, you will be provided food there)”.

Discrimination and compassion

As it is now, the residents have emotionally affected as people outside their village look at them differently, while barangay 23-C is listed among the Very High-Risk Barangays in the city as posted on the city government Facebook page.

Usman said ” Masakit, nasasaktan kami, kasi kinatatakutan kami (It hurts, we are hurt, people are scared of us)”.

Those who were found positive have long been in isolation, but he felt different the way it is portrayed, “As if nandito pa sila, pero wala (As if they are still here, but (they) are gone).

On a Facebook post of Barangay 23-C it stated,” We are clarifying that those 13 tested Positive from coronavirus are persons, and they are our brothers and sisters of the Badjao group that are Patients under investigation (PUIs), who were immediately pulled-out from the barangay towards the isolation area or facility last April 22, 2020. Please be informed that these persons are no longer staying here in our barangay since the day they were moved-away”.

A resident of the said village who requested not to be identified said, “I am scared, my family is scared but the truth is those found positive have long been out of our place”.

Carlito, a jeepney driver said “Mahadlok ko mo byahe kay basin naay taga Isla Verde mosakay, dili baya na makit-an ang Covid (I am scared to ply my route, what if a resident of Isla Verde will ride, we cannot see Covid).

Timeline

Newsline asked health authorities why it took them so long to report the when the residents were hauled from their village last April 22 and the result was only out on May 17?

Department of Health XI assistant regional director Lenny Joy Rivera on Tuesday’s virtual presser said “The department of Health is just waiting for results” saying they observe “Cut-off time for submission of reports” and there report are submitted every 3:00 in the afternoon. There report is based on the report which are submitted to them.

Rivera said sometimes there was a problem in the extraction of kit, sometimes, she said “Nagkaproblema sa extraction kit, may mga time na hindi ganun kadali ang extraction kit (there are problem in the extraction of kit, there are time that it is not easy to extract a kit) and the capacity of testing is also limited due to the capacity of the machine.”

The DOH has released the result saying the 15 residents from Barangay 23-C have been tested positive but she stressed the result is under case investigation because they want to know “Kung ang sample na ti-nest coming from 23-C is kailan sya binigay, kailan in-asses, kasi usually po, kung na assess sya that day, lalabas po talaga ang result on that day, kung wala pong problema tayo sa extraction kit, sa collection kit or sa re-agent. so yon po yong tinitingnan namin.”

She even said even if the result went out on Sunday or earlier “Ang importante po na-detect natin sila and then they were actually isolated , kasi the transmission of Covid-19 will only be transmitted to other person kung symptomatic ang ating patient kung umuubo sya , kung bumabahim sya or contaminated ang hands nya or humahawak sa kanyang mata mga ganun ( what is important is that we were able to detect them, then they were actually isolated, because, the transmission of Covid-19 will only be transmitted to other person if the patient is symptomatic like having cough, touching their eyes, or their hands are contaminated) ” and contact tracing is still being conducted.

Residents in barangay 23-C are provided food ration especially those is Purok 4-C which has been locked down.-Photo Courtesy Barangay Captain Usman.

Lockdown

Since April 22, Purok-4C has been locked, residents are not allowed to go out and the government provides food and other needs every three days.

“Sinisiguro ko na may pagkain sila at mabigay ng gobierno ang basic needs nila. Masakit sa akin na lahat kami parang suspect, hindi kagustuhan ng mga Badjao na mahawa ( I make sure that they have food and their basic needs are provided, what hurts is that people look at us as suspects, the Badjaos did not wish to be infected),” Usman added.

Different isolation facility

The Badjao community during normal times used to get out of their houses early dawn for a living, either selling anything from used clothing to begging.

They are used to going home usually at 4 to 5 pm, as they arrive in their village, they talk and bond together as a community until dusk. Such community practice, according to Usman, could have triggered the high infection in Purok-C of Isla Verde.

Given the cultural difference, Usman suggests “Sana may isolation facility na makakita sila sa labas, yung hindi masyadong sirado, kasi nasanay yan sila na sa dagat mamuhay; ang kanilang bahay ay halos bukas lahat kasi, ang kanilang paligid at mundo ay nasa dagat, sana lang (I hope there will be a different type of isolation facility for the Badjao, one that is not totally closed, their usual place (to live) is the sea, where houses are open, their playground and their world is the sea, I just wish),” an emotional Usman stressed.-Editha Z. Caduaya

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