The role of ECMO in managing COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory symptoms remains unclear, notes HTAC in an interim recommendation.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a medical technique that replaces heart and lung function using a machine that pumps and supplies a patient’s blood with oxygen. 

For COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms, the disease may weaken lung function and cause low levels of oxygen in the blood. In specific cases, ECMO treatment may be useful in managing respiratory failure, as it allows the organ to rest and heal.

Compared to mechanical ventilation, current evidence on ECMO use shows minimal improvement in heart and lung function and patient survival. Moreover, patients on ECMO treatment have a higher risk of bleeding complications, which requires intensive blood replacement.

Aside from these findings, the review of evidence reveals limited access to the treatment. There are currently only 13 ECMO machines in the Philippines, most of which are placed within specialized centers in Metro Manila. 

Furthermore, ECMO treatment requires many resources. These include health specialists needed to provide the intervention, training, and rehabilitation, as well as costs for various medical equipment, supplies, training, and maintenance. Providing this care to a possibly high number of patients can be challenging for hospitals and the public healthcare system.

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