Alden using platform, passion to help fight another infectious disease
Alden Richards may have slowly eased back into a work schedule fit for a show biz hotshot. After all, it’s almost unthinkable for GMA Network’s top matinee idol to escape the lure of the klieg lights for long—even in the midst of a pandemic.
But not even the series of lockdowns has dampened Alden’s positive outlook in life.
“My faith has been strengthened even more,” he told us last Monday, talking about how the pandemic has changed him. “I am grateful that my family and I are healthy. At importanteng maintindihan nating lahat na walang sini-sino ang virus—your carelessness can get you infected or killed. So we should all do our part to help one another.”
But make no mistake. Alden does know how to have a good time like many young people his age. Away from the cameras, the actor entertains himself via gaming. “I’m into game streaming right now because it’s so much fun,” he disclosed. “And it’s another way for me to interact with my followers.”
If there’s one thing that remains a constant on the 28-year-old heartthrob’s list of activities, it’s his commitment to use his influence to draw attention to worthy causes. His consistent forays into advocacies that address hot-button issues have always been a sort of pay-it-forward endeavor that allows Alden to show his gratitude for the blessings coming his way. We remember how Alden, at age 21, eagerly supported the GoforHealth lifestyle campaign of the Department of Health (DOH) in 2013 to stress the importance of healthy living, long before he began “reinventing” himself into the buff and bodacious hunk he is today.
Alden is only too happy to utilize his influence and popularity to call attention to his latest advocacy—this time, as the #EndTB ambassador of USAID (United States Agency for International Development), not only to prevent infection, but also to reduce the stigma associated with tuberculosis.
At press time, a digital launch and a Central Luzon media forum were scheduled yesterday, along with the release of Alden’s video in support of the program. A COVID-19 and TB campaign, set sometime next week, is also in the works.
USAID’s #EndTB strategy aims to end the global TB epidemic, with targets to reduce deaths from tuberculosis by 95 percent and cut new cases by 90 percent between 2015 and 2035.What necessitates the #EndTB/TBFreePH campaign now, and how do celebrity endorsements (particularly the one with Alden) make it easier to reach the grassroots?
“Campaigns by celebrities like Alden can exponentially increase public awareness and provide accurate information about a disease, whether COVID-19 or TB,” Michelle Lang-Alli, director of USAID Philippines’ Office of Health, said last Tuesday. “With disruptions in the provision of health services due to COVID-19, we needed to reinforce our campaign for TB elimination.
“The focus is now on bolstering resilient health systems that are able to cope with stresses brought about by COVID-19 and other potential health issues. TB transmission does not stop during the pandemic. Ensuring access to services is critical, even with quarantine restrictions.”
If you think that TB isn’t something we need to be concerned about, think again. We learned from Lang-Alli that according to the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, there are approximately 591,000 Filipinos who contract tuberculosis annually.
In 2019, the DOH detected “only” 403,757 cases. So more than 30 percent of the estimated cases remain undetected and continue to transmit the disease. The Philippines needs to find these “missing TB cases” every year to reach TB elimination, she said.
“The Philippines is one of the 30 high TB-burden countries listed by the WHO that accounts for most of the TB cases in the world,” Lang-Alli stated. “TB transmission is also driven by social determinants of health. The poor are disproportionately affected by this disease because of poor health conditions, overcrowded living spaces, poor nutrition and limited access to health care. As such, developing countries generally have a larger burden of the TB disease.”
Asked if TB cases are lower or higher now (with COVID-19) and how they’re being monitored during this pandemic, Lang-Alli said, “An international study by Stop TB Partnership reported in May 2020 estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic will result in additional TB cases and deaths globally. The Stop TB Partnership was established in 2000 to eliminate tuberculosis as a public health problem.
“There’s also an ongoing study by the Department of Health on the impact of community quarantine on daily TB case notifications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“TB cases detected and reported are regularly monitored by the DOH through the integrated TB information system, the country’s official reporting database for tuberculosis.”
“The US government, through USAID, the US Department of Defense and the US State Department, has provided nearly P1B ($20.5 million) in COVID-19-related assistance. USAID also supports the Philippine government’s response to TB, investing more than $60 million to fight TB over the past five years.”
For his part, while Alden, who we heard is doing the USAID campaign gratis, is grateful for the recognition he gets as an actor, he also finds the chance to help people just as fulfilling.
“It’s a humbling experience to participate in different causes. It feels good to be able to help in my own small way and contribute to USAID’s #EndTB campaign,” Alden said, before delivering a message for his fans all over the country. “Naniniwala po akong mahalagang mahikayat ang ating mga kababayan na magpakonsulta kung may sintomas ng TB at ituloy ang gamutan para hindi makahawa. Sana, sa tulong ng social media ay may makarinig ng tawag namin upang makisali sa aming kampanya.”
Unlike COVID-19, which we get from a virus, tuberculosis is a disease caused by bacteria that is largely ignored at a time when much of our attention is directed at an incurable virus. But be forewarned: Like COVID-19, TB also attacks the lungs, is highly infectious and is just as deadly if left untreated.
That’s why USAID is thrilled to collaborate with Alden and the CSR department (headed by Ms Unis Loleng) of his home network, GMA 7, to support the #EndTB campaign.
“As I got older, I realized the importance of having a healthy lifestyle,” Alden said, to explain his eagerness to support the program. “So, I make sure I listen to my body and fuel it with all the right nutrients.”
Yes, Alden “listens” to his body—and he wants you to listen to yours, too.
“As a public figure, I hope to influence Filipinos to develop the kind of behavior that would compel them to seek help, especially when they experience signs and symptoms related to tuberculosis—like coughing up blood, unintended weight loss, fever, prolonged coughing for three or more weeks, fatigue, etc.).
“Lalo na po ngayon, because there are health facilities that are willing to provide the free TB medication, proper care and treatment. There are now LGUs, especially in the NCR (Metro Manila), Regions 3 and 4A, as well as Marawi, not to mention the TB Councils and TB Ordinances that allocate an annual budget for TB treatment for our kababayans. This is made possible through USAID’s TB Platforms Project. As you can see, proper care and treatment is accessible now.”
What are simple and practical ways to prevent its spread?
“It’s important to learn about TB as a disease, how to detect its symptoms, and where to access TB services. We need to share this information to our family and relatives, friends, colleagues and everyone in our circle of influence.
“Moreover, as active users of social media, we must spread awareness and correct information about the disease, especially during the pandemic where the need for infection prevention and control is great.”
We can’t ignore what our body “tells” us, Alden added: “Minsan, kapag inuubo tayo maski mahigit dalawang linggo na, ayaw nating magpa-checkup. It’s important to consult your doctor. We tend to self-medicate so it only gets worse, at nahahawaan natin ang mga kasamahan sa bahay. We’re all responsible for each other’s health and safety.”