The backliners: Davao community takes up the challenge to heal as one

AS THE world was placed under quarantine nearly four months ago, much of the focus and gratitude were for the frontliners--health workers and service providers who carried on while the whole world retreated into their homes.

But not so for this group of health workers, who also had to retreat... at the start. And who in the process called themselves: The backliners.

“Days after the news of an upcoming quarantine, which was initially thought to last only for two weeks, cases were rising and the medical sector was overwhelmed by the lacks of PPE's (personal protective equipment) and supplies that would protect the frontliners,” Dr. Rey Hafid P. Millan of the Southern Philippines Medical Center Department of Dental Medicine said.

Millan admitted that when the news of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) first broke, not one of them really had any idea how bad the situation could get except the news where the pandemic was reported to have caused lockdowns and widespread infections in some parts of the world.

But one thing is clear to them: something must be done to help.

Incidentally, the dentists were among those who had to retreat when Covid-19 started to spread because they deal with oral cavities where everything that can transmit the virus comes from – aerosols, droplets, and a whole load of saliva. What can they do from the back? They did what everyone is doing now: Harness the power of the Internet.

"The first responders were Sir Tom Ascaño, Ma'am Andre Dizon, and Ms. Kaye Peña. During the inception, key persons were added to the small group chat to help identify and assess the needs of our frontliners, it was considered the most crucial stage because it is where our doctors and healthcare workers passed through their learning curve in managing this crisis," Millan said.

Top on the list, “aerosol boxes” for the anesthesia intubation team, the Emergency Medicine intubation team, and the Internal Medicine Resuscitation team. Then the personal protective equipment for all those in the hospital, which at that time were in dire shortage as the panic that ensued saw even surgical face masks disappearing from pharmaceutical supplies stores.

At the start of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), Dr. Gamaliel Urbi, the section head of the Airway Dentistry and Dental Sleep Medicine of SPMC Department of Dental Medicine, already initiated a fundraiser to produce 1,000 PPE suits for SPMC. The group tapped Dr. Urbi, seeking his help and contacts to produce more PPEs for other hospitals. To date, Dr. Urbi has initiated the donation of more than 5,000 PPE suits to 70 hospitals including SPMC, Davao Regional Medical Center in Tagum City, and other private and public hospitals in the region and also in other areas of Mindanao.

There were the other identified needs to attend to, thus aside from Dr. Urbi, other individuals were tapped and included in the chat room.

Enter the technical persons of the Architects, Plumbers and Engineers Inc., the National Master Plumbers Association of the Philippines, the Philippine Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Davao Fabricators and Manufacturers Group to produce, fabricate, and donate aerosol boxes, Obstetrician Maternity Tents and Shields, Dental Aerosol Shields, Swabbing Booths, Face Shields and PPEs.

Into the second month of the quarantine, a colorful and fun project came to be when Dr. Millan’s elder brother, Mindanao artist Rey Mudjahid “Kublai” P. Millan joined the call for help with his “Huna-Hunaw,” a joint project of the Davao backliners, Davao APE Inc., the Department of Public Works and Development and Mindanao Art Fair, to provide portable art sinks around the city and region.

The portable art sinks made of steel barrels seek to promote mindful handwashing and prevent the spread of Covid-19. These will be placed in key areas of the city like hospitals, terminals, wet markets, government offices and schools to make handwashing facilities readily available in places frequented by people.

The backliners are still growing, but so far, the key persons of the groups are Tom Clemente Ascaño, Andrea Dizon, Kaye Peña, Dr. Gamaliel Urbi, Dr. Hafid Millan, Dr. Jett Lu, Dr. Benedict Valdez, Dr. Rowen Abique, Mitz Magtoto, Dr. Hervie Halipa, Engr. Jessve Daypuyart, Engr. Meljune Orillosa, Engr. Lynneth Sorronda, Dr. Faridah Wong, Dr. Malou Monteverde, APE Inc., Davao PSME Davao, NAMPAP Davao, IECEP Davao, IIEE Davao, PICE Davao, UAP District D1, PICHE Davao, PSVARE Davao, DPWH XI, Stanfilco DOLE Philippines Inc., Trans Island Plastic Corp., Jocelyn De Vera, Faces 2019, Ateneo STEM, UM BSME batch 88, Cluster 1 Team Hanlulukay, Boy Scouts of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Region, Engr. Marvin Rapisora, Engr. Allan Rufila, David Sinangote III, Joshua Llado and TJ Parado.

As the backliners grew in numbers, one thing became very clear: Dabawenyos do indeed intend to heal as one from this pandemic. The region still has a long way to go, but with the different sectors pitching in their help, the burden of overcoming this pandemic is made lighter. It also underlines the power of communication when harnessed to benefit society as the Davao backliners started as a simple chat group among concerned friends but has evolved to be a multi-sectoral and multi-faceted group communicating with each other through their phones and computers to bring much-needed assistance to the frontliners.


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