A new COVID-19 variant officially designated as Lineage “P.3” was detected in the Philippines on 10 March 2021 as reported by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC). The variant was found from local samples in Central Visayas, collected on the same dates where there was a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases recorded in the region.


What do we know so far?

  • P.3 is designated as a variant under investigation (VUI) and not yet identified as a variant of concern (VOC) by the Department of Health (DOH), as the current available data are not enough to conclude that it will have significant implications to public health. Public Health England has classified it as a VUI.
  • To date, there are 104 total infections caused by the P.3 variant in the Philippines, of which majority are detected in Central Visayas. Samples from the Philippines were collected in late January up to February 2, 2021, and the sequencing run was conducted on February 4, 2021 by the PGC.
  • The results reported by PGC indicate that P.3 is found to bear multiple mutations of concern in the spike protein region. In simple terms, there were multiple changes detected in the spike region of the P.3 variant, the part of the virus responsible for attaching to human cells, which may possibly have “functional significance” as reported by PGC.
  • These mutations, or changes detected in P.3. are identified as E484K, N501Y, and P681H. They have been previously associated with known COVID-19 variants linked to possible increased transmissibility and immune escape. There is still no proof, based on available data, that P.3 is more infectious than the original version of Sars-CoV-2, but the presence of these three mutations suggests that it is possible. 
  • There are NO reports that the P.3 variant leads to worse symptoms of COVID-19.


What does it tell us?

  • Although not classified as a VOC, PGC recommends strengthening measures to prevent the spread of P.3 to other regions in the Philippines and other countries due to the potential public health implications of these mutations.
  • Regardless if we are situated in Metro Manila or in the provinces, we must not stop or even minimize practicing the minimum public health standards. With the recent announcement of Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, and Bulacan, the DOH urges the public to stay at home unless extremely necessary and remember to avoid the three Cs (Closed spaces, Crowded places, and Close contact settings). 


What is DOST-PCHRD doing?

  • DOST-PCHRD initiated the funding and support for the biosurveillance studies of PGC on COVID-19 in the Philippines through the ARCHER Program. This support started six months ago, in October 2020, to aid current government efforts get a more comprehensive picture of the spread of the disease in the country. To date, the biosurveillance service of PGC is also being funded by the DOH.
  • DOST-PCHRD supports PGC’s recommendation to strengthen measures to prevent the spread of the P.3 variant to other regions and countries. So far, four, two, and one of each P.3 virus sequences have been submitted by the UK, Australia, Germany and Japan, respectively, in the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) database which has now more than 700,000 SARS-CoV-2 submitted sequences.
  • In the long term, the Council aims to aid the government in determining the dynamics of the spread of the disease throughout its course.
  • This health research effort aims to provide our policymakers guidance in future planning with regard to epidemics in the country. Collected data from this project will be part of a baseline for the country for improving our health disaster responses in the future.


Variants, strains, and mutations simplified

Although connected in several ways, the terms variants, strains, and mutations do not mean the same thing. In simple terms,

  • Even a virus commits errors in copying itself. When a virus makes copies of itself or duplicates inside our body, sometimes, there are letters in the genome that are not written correctly. As a result, there are copies that are not made exactly the same as the original version, and we call this mutation. Just like how mistakes are natural in people, mutations are also natural in viruses.
  • As a result of its error of not perfectly copying itself, this mutation changes the new copy’s genome. Take note that several mutations may exist in a single copy, and when this happens, a new variant of the virus occurs. 
  • A strain, on the other hand, simply refers to a subtype of a larger virus species but has different characteristics. For example, SARS-CoV-2 is a strain of the larger coronavirus family that causes respiratory infections, in the same way that MERS-CoV is also a strain of coronavirus.


With the upcoming Holy Week, everyone is encouraged to avoid large congregations and practice religious activities at home. It is always recommended to maintain social distance, wear masks when going outside, and wash hands frequently.

The Call for Proposals for the ASEAN-China Program on Public Health Emergency Preparedness Capacity (PROMPT) is now open!
This program is under the ASEAN-China Public Health Cooperation Initiative which focuses on enhancing regional preparedness capacity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health emergencies. To support this goal, the ASEAN-China PROMPT Program will carry out capacity building activities, creation of information and data exchange, vaccine research and development, and provision of technical support to ASEAN institutions in public health emergency response.
The projects under the PROMPT Program shall support health policy objectives of ASEAN Member States and China, and contribute to closer inter-institutional connections and cooperation between ASEAN and China, which could be reflected by joint collaboration projects between health institutions and government agencies.
 
Projects under this Program shall also be able to deliver long-term and sustainable benefits based on explicit reference to design and implementation factors contributing to its sustainability.
 
Requirements:
  1. Government agencies or affiliated agencies, health or research institutions, universities from the ASEAN Member States may submit proposals. Partnerships between the ASEAN institutions and China are encouraged, during which a leading agency shall be identified as the project proponent and comply with the Rules of Procedure of Engagement of Entities with the ASEAN Health Sector if applicable.
  2. Proposals must use the template prescribed by the ASEAN Secretariat and go through ASEAN China Cooperation Fund (ACCF) project appraisal and approval process individually (templates may be downloaded here).
  3. For project proposals submitted with multi-year implementation of activities, it is recommended to have the initial activities be implemented within the first year, during which the outputs of initial activities will be evident and add value to the succeeding activities of the project proposal. 
  4. Budget of each project shall be evaluated based on the nature of the project and the project proposal on its own merit.
 
Any potential project proponent is advised to contact the focal points within the ASEAN  Secretariat and project officers of the ACCF Management Team before drafting and  submitting project proposals. Contact information is as follows: 
Project focal points:  
  1. Health Division from the ASEAN Secretariat, (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
  2. Mr. Gu Junjie, Programme Manager of the ACCF Management Team (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) / (62)813-18628589  
 
Copy furnish to:
  1. Mr. Marco Antonio R. Bautista, DOST, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  2. Mr. Zymar P. Bandola, DOST, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  3. DFA-ASEAN, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  4. Philippine Mission to ASEAN, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This program is an open call and will be accepting proposals for projects with a duration between March 2021- February 2024. 
The Gelia Castillo Award for Research on Social Innovations in Health (GCARSIH) announced the most outstanding social innovations in health in 2020 during the 39th DOST-PCHRD Anniversary last 17 March 2021. Aiming to celebrate and raise awareness on the impact of social innovations in addressing health-related gaps in the country, GCARSIH awards eligibility for a research and development grant, a training package, and cash prize to its winners.



This year, the Holistic Water Systems for Pumping Water Uphill by the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation (AIDFI) won first place for improving the quality of life in far-flung, mountainous areas across the country with better access to clean and safe water. The innovation is an environment-friendly hydraulic water ram that pumps water uphill in an increased volume 24/7 without fuel or electricity, improving health and sanitation in communities with limited access to water. Abundant water supply also allowed livelihoods to thrive by increasing productivity among residents who used to fetch water from nearby rivers multiple times a day.

In second place, the University of the Philippines Diliman Psychosocial Services was recognized for being instrumental in addressing the mental healthcare needs of the UP Diliman community. With its positive impact since the project’s inception in 2018, the University is currently gearing to establish the UPD PsycServ as a regular office to further the holistic mental health support it has provided to students, faculty, and staff alike.

In third place was the Kalinga Health: A Hub-and-Spoke Social Enterprise Model in Engaging the Private Sector for Improved Tuberculosis Care initiated by Innovations for Community Health in partnership with ACCESS Health International. The project aims to address major gaps in tuberculosis care such as case detection, reporting, and access to affordable, quality care. Through private and public collaboration, the Kalinga Health establishes one-stop treatment and diagnostic hubs to improve tuberculosis care among the private sector, where inadequately treated tuberculosis cases are common.

Other notable innovations among the 67 entries this year are the: Baby Bonding Philippines, BHW Academy, falls PACT, the Zuellig Family Foundation- Health Change Model, PPE Needs Dashboard App, Telepsychiatry, and the Young House Heroes Initiative.

The GCARSIH was borne through a partnership between the Department of Science and Technology- Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, the Department of Health, and the Social Innovation in Health Initiative Philippines. 


The Northern Mindanao Consortium for Health Research and Development (NorMinCoHRD) wins their third title as champions of the 3-Minute Pitch to Policymakers Competition through their representative, Dr. Gina Itchon from Xavier University with her pitch entitled, “The Web-GRID Project: Helping LGUs Make Better and Faster Decisions during Emergencies.”

The study of Dr. Itchon aims to integrate epidemiologic data with GEO spatial mapping for disasters. Driven by the desire to contribute solutions during the onslaught of the pandemic, she wants to develop a decision support tool which considered risk perspective and managed by the local government unit for immediate decision making. Ultimately, the tool will be used by the LGU in making executive decisions that is timely, sensible, scientific, and data-driven.

Coming in second place is Dr. Mary Joy Sande representing the Bicol region with her policy pitch entitled “Antenatal Care: Every Pregnant Mother's Right for Quality Care.” Third Place winner is Mr. Noriel P. Calaguas representing Central Luzon for the policy pitch entitled “9 Ways to Improve Gay and Bi-Men’s HIV Testing Rates.”

Dr. Bella P. Magnaye of the Lyceum University of the Philippines, representing Region 4A, bagged the People’s Choice Award for the policy pitch entitled “No Plastic, No risk.”

Aligned with the research utilization and capacity building thrusts of the Philippine National Health Research System (PNHRS), all competitors were nominated by their respective health research and development consortia.

The 3-Minute Pitch to Policymakers Competition is an initiative that aims to cultivate researchers’ presentation and communication skills to policymakers. This year, the competition was held as part of the Council’s 39th Anniversary Celebration last 17 March 201 via Zoom and Facebook Livestreaming.

Stressing the importance of utilization in the health research process, the PNHRS Research Utilization Committee Chair Dr. Cecilia Acuin said, “We really need to work on getting our research used, especially at this time when resources are even more constrained than usual. That is why, one of the motivations of holding this competition is to hone the ability to pitch research not only among research but most especially to policymakers. Presenting your research to policymakers, is one of the most effective and efficient way in having your research utilized.” 

Congratulations to the Winners and Finalists of the Gelia Castillo Award for Research on Social Innovations in Health


The Gelia Castillo Award for Research on Social Innovations in Health (GCARSIH) aims to recognize the outstanding social innovations that address persistent, societal and health systems challenges. In 2020, we set out to find brilliant solutions that address complex gaps in health care and to celebrate the changemakers who create effective, meaningful and sustainable solutions for Filipinos.


A total of 67 entries were sent in by innovators across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. After screening by respective RHRDCs and evaluation by innovation, healthcare, and health research experts, we are proud to present the finalists and winners of this year’s award:


Presenting the Winners:


1st place - Holistic Water Systems for Pumping Water Uphill

  • This innovation was initiated by the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation (AIDFI) to help villages across the country gain access to clean and safe water. AIDFI is a Philippine Social Enterprise engaged in the designing, manufacturing, and installation of low- cost technologies for the basic needs of the poor with its AIDFI model hydraulic ram pump as its flagship. The environment friendly ram pumps water uphill to waterless communities in an increased volume 24/7 without fuel or electricity, thereby improving the lives of communities in terms of health, nutrition, and sanitation.

2nd place - University of the Philippines Diliman Psychosocial Services

  • UPD PsycServe is a three-year-old special project under the UPD Chancellor’s Office. This innovation successfully provided the university with a model on how to respond to the increasingly pressing mental health and wellbeing concerns of its students, faculty and staff in a systematic, holistic, and caring manner. The work of PsycServ has proven to be most helpful within and outside the campus that processes are underway to establish it a regular office in the university.

3rd place - Kalinga Health: A Hub-and-Spoke Social Enterprise Model in Engaging the Private Sector for Improved Tuberculosis Care

  • This innovation was initiated by Innovations for Community Health, in partnership with ACCESS Health International. Kalinga Health is a healthcare systems innovation-social enterprise that aims to solve the "missing cases" of tuberculosis, those that are mostly seen in the private sector but are inadequately treated. This is achieved through one-stop treatment and diagnostics hubs that act as "intermediaries" or "interfaces" to the private sector by connecting the public sector, the National TB Program, and a network of engaged private providers (physicians, polyclinics, laboratories, and hospitals). 



Presenting our Finalists:


Baby Bonding Philippines

  • Baby Bonding is a preventive and early intervention program for parents and babies based on social brain research that healthy bonding between babies and carers prevent future health problems. This program was initiated to innovate Baby Bonding in the Philippines for the “last, least and littlest” be given the best start possible.

BHW Academy

  • BHW Academy is a comprehensive, outcome-based capacity-building program that was developed to further professionalize the role of Barangay Health Workers. This innovation uses a community- and systems-based approach through curriculum development, stakeholder management and policy development.

falls PACT

  • The falls PACT program involves incorporating cognitive training elements into a series of physical exercises. It engages senior citizens in fun and challenging activities to help address the decline in both physical and cognitive functions.

Zuellig Family Foundation - Health Change Model

  • The ZFF Health Change Model promotes greater accountability among local chief executives and municipal health leaders in creating health care systems that are responsive to the needs of the poor. Interventions include transformative training, practicum with coaching, and mentoring.

PPE Needs Dashboard App

  • The PPE Needs Dashboard is a web application that aims to bridge the gap between under-resourced health facilities and those willing to contribute to their PPE needs. It also provides a way for organizations to manage and coordinate donations and deliveries of PPEs.

Telepsychiatry

  • This innovation of the Southern Philippines Medical Center helps address the mental health access gap for people in areas with limited psychiatric services, in Regions 10 and 11. The Telepsychiatry program revolutionized the mental health care service in the country by starting the first virtual live consultation. 

Young House Heroes Initiative

  • This innovation is inspired by the belief that young people can help their fellow young people cope with mental health issues even when they are stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Young House Heroes Initiative focuses on strengthening key areas of intersectionality in the current mental health delivery framework of the Philippines.

Congratulations to the winners and finalists of GCARSIH. We celebrate you, the innovators – your exceptional solutions truly inspire us all.