(Anadolu photo)

MANILA – The European Union is providing a 20-million euro grant for a program that would strengthen the Covid-19 response of Southeast Asian nations, with the Philippines getting PHP128 million support.

The Southeast Asia Pandemic Response and Preparedness program, implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO), would enhance the region's coordination of the Covid-19 response and strengthen its health systems capacity.

Under the program, with a duration of 36 months, WHO will work with the Philippine health system and strengthen the monitoring and testing capacities.

Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines Luc Véron said the EU support would help health institutions and workers to manage the caseload while maintaining essential health services.

“Preventing and containing Covid-19 outbreaks and safely treating people who catch it remain the top priority. At the same time, we need to build back better and this includes investing in the resilience of our health systems in order to tackle future pandemics,” he said.

To date, the EU has provided PHP130 billion (€ 2.2 billion), to help 92 low and middle-income countries, including the Philippines, gain access to Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility, Véron said.

"Yes, Team Europe is the largest contributor to COVAX. On March 4th, we were there as Team Europe, on Villamor Air Base with President Duterte and Dr. Rabi, to welcome the first batch of COVAX vaccines provided to the Philippines. Yes, truth is, as Team Europe we were very proud," he said.

Through COVAX Facility, the Philippines received a total of 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, boosting the country's vaccination program.

On March 4, President Rodrigo Duterte along with the envoys of European nations welcomed the arrival of the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines.

Meantime, WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said much work has to be done in order to strengthen the country’s Covid-19 response as vaccines alone cannot prevent the spread of the disease.

He said while vaccines have started to arrive, it would take "many months" before the pandemic is over.

"That means all of us need to keep doing the basics to control and suppress Covid-19. The health system across the Philippines must be able to rapidly identify people with Covid-19, trace their close contacts, and provide places for their quarantine and isolation to break the chains of transmission," he said.

“Continued strength for policymakers and leadership to make wise decisions for the health and safety of people and communities throughout the Philippines and continued strength from health care workers, who are critical links in a fragile fence, working to protect their countrymen and the country from Covid-19,” Abeyasinghe added.

Welcoming EU’s support, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the grant would help ensure “the pandemic response is able to reach all those who are uniquely vulnerable, experiencing barriers to health due to their social as well as economic conditions." (PNA)