‘Hawa’ and ‘Resistensiya’: Local Health Knowledge and the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Philippines

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Understanding people's concepts of illness and health is key to crafting policies and communications campaigns to address a particular medical concern. This paper gathers cultural knowledge on infectious disease causation, prevention, and treatment the Philippines that are particularly relevant for the COVID-19 pandemic, and analyzes their implications for public health. This paper draws from ethnographic work (e.g. participant observation, interviews, conversations, virtual ethnography) carried out individually by each of the two authors from February to September 2020. The data was analyzed in relation to the anthropological literature on local health knowledge in the Philippines. We find that notions of hawa (contagion) and resistensiya (immunity) inform people's views of illness causation as well as their preventive practices - including the use of face masks and 'vitamins' and other pharmaceuticals, as well as the ways in which they negotiate prescriptions of face mask use and physical distancing. These perceptions and practices go beyond biomedical knowledge and are continuously being shaped by people's everyday experiences and circulations of knowledge in traditional and social media. Our study reveals that people's novel practices reflect recurrent, familiar, and long-held concepts - such as the moral undertones of hawa and experimentation inherent in resistensiya. Policies and communications efforts should acknowledge and anticipate how these notions may serve as either barriers or facilitators to participatory care and improved health outcomes.