POSTSCRIPT / April 29, 2003 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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The poor have weaker defense against SARS

EMERGENCY EXISTS: Presidential spokesman Toting Bunye was just telling us the bare fact when he said “this is a national emergency” referring to the health authorities’ confirmation that the deadly SARS coronavirus is now loose in our midst.

We have no problem with being told the truth. But lawyers see some disturbing legal implications to a declaration of national emergency and travel operators don’t want to scare away tourists with a declaration of an emergency.

Bunye did not help any when he hinted at authorities possibly arresting profiteers and detaining people who violate quarantine rules as part of the state’s exercise of its police powers.

But there is a difference between a mere statement of an opinion by Bunye and a formal declaration of a state of national emergency by the President. It appears that Bunye’s remark was mistaken for a presidential proclamation.

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MATTER OF SURVIVAL: Whatever the jittery among us think, we share Bunye’s view that businessmen who overprice protective masks and medicines should be jailed and that SARS patients and confirmed carriers be forcibly isolated.

While Malacanang may find it helpful clarifying Bunye’s remarks, it need not be overly apologetic. If the Palace reacted to the SARS threat with less firm declarations, it would be denounced just the same for being too slow and negligent.

It really boils down to what President Arroyo correctly said was a matter of human survival and not of human rights. An emergency demands emergency measures. Whatever be the letter of the law, it should be made to serve the spirit of public welfare.

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BONGBONG RIGHT: Ilocos Norte Gov. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos hewed to this spirit when he stopped the arrival at the Laoag International Airport of the usual Chinese players (from Taipei and Hong Kong) patronizing the casino at Fort Ilocandia.

As local executive responsible for the people on the ground, Marcos stopped the arrival of alien gamblers despite the objections of Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon whose job it is to bring in tourists.

Marcos won points in the public mind since tourist dollars pale in comparison to public welfare. He did this not by blocking the airstrip but by appealing to the tour organizers to suspend arrivals from SARS-affected areas.

Fort Ilocandia, by the way, has gone to seed. Even before SARS came to town, many of the rooms were of such condition that a guest would hesitate to touch the bed and walls for fear of picking up some germs or coming out itchy all over.

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BEST DEFENSE: Since there is no cure yet for SARS and since deterioration of the victim’s health is fast once infection sets in, the logical defense is to prevent ever catching the drug-resistant coronavirus.

The human body is so marvelously designed that it fights any incoming infection. We can help enhance this natural defense in a number of ways.

We have gathered from the Internet cybertambayan of Pinoy55 (UP Brotherhood of the Filipinos) some specific measures for boosting our immune system. The Pinoy site cited among other things:

Viruses produce some chemical substances causing our immune cells to die. This new kind of virus (coronavirus) belongs to a mutated strain that existing antibiotics cannot treat 100-percent effectively.

When viruses enter the body, they clash with the immune system. Fortunately, viruses cannot kill all the immune cells in a healthy person. The stronger our immune system is, the less chances are for viruses to injure our body.

Therefore, without the aid of medicine, the degree of sickness after a suspected SARS infection and the rate of recovery depend mainly on how strong is the immune function.

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VITAMINS: We can boost our immune system/function to the maximum, to make sure that we are “extremely healthy” at least during this critical period. Here are some suggestions to strengthen that function within a short period:

  1. Take antioxidant nutraceuticals — Antioxidants are chemicals found in food. They are a great help in strengthening our immune system. We can boost our immune function by taking a cocktail of antioxidant supplements such as:
    • Vitamin E — 1000 IU daily. Alpha-tocopherol is the biological active form of vitamin E. There are of two forms: (a) d-tocopherol, the natural form (recommended for faster body absorption), and (b) dl-tocopherol, the synthetic form.
    • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) — 1,000 milligram (mg) daily. Instead of taking supplement, we can have two pieces of citrus fruits (e.g. orange) a day to get vitamin C.
    • Beta Carotene — not more than 10000 IU daily.
    • Selenium — 200 microgram daily.
    • Zinc — not more than 500 mg daily.
    • Lipoic acid — 50 mg daily.
    • Glutathione — 50 mg daily.
  1. Drink green tea daily, as it contains a tremendous amount of antioxidant flavonoid, catechins.
  2. Take tomatoes, broccoli, fruits and vegetables in red and dark green color as part of your daily diet. They have a huge amount of antioxidant carotenoids, lycopene and carotene.
  3. Do not engage in intense physical activities/exercises during this critical period. Heavy exercise suppresses the immune function (related to upper respiratory infections) even several days after the workout. Instead of intense exercise, light-to-moderate workout would help if you have been training regularly.
  4. Take enough carbohydrates (e.g. rice, concentrated in starch, etc.), the primary food for immune cells.
  5. Have enough sleep and avoid stress. Anxiety, depression and fright affect our body’s stress hormones (e.g. catecholamine and glucocorticoids), thus suppressing our immune system capability.
  6. Wear mouth-masks to reduce the chance and gravity/level of possible infection, though these are not 100-percent effective in prevention. The masks must be fine enough to screen out the one-micron (one-millionth of a meter) coronavirus.
  7. Washing hands thoroughly with running water and disinfecting detergent/soap before eating or touching our (or somebody’s) critical body parts such as eyes, mouth, nose, ear should become a habit. Alcohol that is 70-percent solution can kill the virus on contact.
  8. Avoid going to public places and getting exposed to SARS suspected carriers (even relatives and friends) who cough, sneeze, or are looking sickly or have fever without the proper preventive and protective devices.
  9. Strictly follow quarantine and medical procedures imposed by concerned government agencies.

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POOR VULNERABLE: The poor huddled in congested blighted areas may not be able to afford some of the suggested measures. They may not have the money for the right food, vitamin supplements and medical help.

While the rich are ensconced in their walled residences and can minimize venturing out, the poor have no choice but to go out daily. Those who are better off travel in air-conditioned cars, while the poor have to take their chance in crowded dirty public conveyances.

Once SARS hits a squatter area, an epidemic will be raging in the colony in a matter of days. With the coronavirus having been introduced locally, the filth, poverty and lack of discipline will see to its rapid spread.

The government must step in as an equalizer. No Filipino should be deprived of competent medical attention and health-giving medicine on account of his being poor.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 29, 2003)

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