The Philippines Frontliners’ War Against COVID-19

Health workers and doctors are laying their lives on the line despite insufficient personal protective equipment.
Wednesday 8 April 2020
Health workers in the Philippines are the front line in the war against COVID-19 but lack personal protective equipment. Photo: AFP

Medical frontliners around the world are one of the first to be affected by COVID-19. After all, they are right in the thick of it running tests on potential COVID-19 patients, attending to those in critical care in ICU wards and having to pull long shifts to ensure infection doesn’t spread. Basically, they’re putting their lives on the line to ensure that everyone else is safe.

Some countries are doing all they can to protect medical staff working to treat COVID-19 patients. There have been shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as medical quality face masks, medical gowns, gloves and face protecting shields around the world and there have been reports of local citizens helping to sew gowns, design and make masks and doing their part to donate equipment where they can. However, recent reports have emerged to show that the Philippines not only has a shortage of medical staff who are qualified to run tests and care for patients, they also lack the proper PPE required.

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), personal protective equipment for blood or airborne high infections will not just consist of the standard precautions (gloves, mask, gown) but also face protection, goggles and mask or faceshield, gloves, gown or coverall, head cover and rubber boots. Photo: AFP

An article from CNN reports that rural health workers are the first in line of defence as patients are assessed and monitored by these workers before they are admitted to a hospital. And due to the lack of qualified medical staff, many of these workers are midwives. They have resorted to making their own protective gear like cloth face masks. Though less effective, are better than nothing at all.

On top of that, trained nurses in the Philippines who initially study nursing in order to be able to work overseas and send money back to their families are required to volunteer their services for no pay back in their home country until they can secure paid work. They work just as hard and long as a paid nurse would in similar medical centres and because there is a shortage of employment opportunities in the Philippines, many nurses have no choice but to do so.

It has been reported by CNN Philippines on 31 March that 17 doctors have already died while being on the frontline including Philippine Pediatric Society president Sally Gatchalian, cardiologist and internist Raul Jara, anesthesiologist Gregorio Macasaet III, and oncologist Rose Pulido.

“Their deaths could have been prevented if there were adequate PPE,” said PMA Commission on Legislation chairman and director of St. Dominic Medical Center in Bacoor, Cavite, Dr. Oscar Tinio. He is of the opinion that health workers are not feeling a “sense of urgency” in the government’s response to the crisis. It took the Department Of Health (DOH) more than a week to respond to his request for additional PPE.

For now, President Rodrigo Duterte has extended the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon to 30 April while the DOH has acquired one million sets of personal protective equipment worth ₱1.8 billion to be given to health workers in referral hospitals for coronavirus patients in Luzon with some being allocated to other areas. The first batch of 15,000 sets arrived on 1 April with the remaining sets to reach between 6 and 24 April.

How sufficient those measures will be, only time will tell.

As of the time of this article, the Philippines has recorded 3,764 COVID-19 cases reported with 84 recovered and 177 deaths.

Source: CNN, Channel News Asia, The New Straits Times, Philippines Department Of Health