The Commission on Human Rights notes with concern the rising number of healthcare workers being infected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Recently, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed that a total of 62 health workers from the National Center for Mental Health were infected with the virus—this number still does not count the 13 are psychiatric patients sick with the virus, which further complicates their conditions.
As of 22 April 2020, DOH also reports that, out of the 1,062 healthcare workers currently infected nationwide, 422 are physicians; 386 are nurses; 30 are medical technologists; 21 are radiological technologists, 51 are nursing assistants, and the rest, 152, are administrative staff and barangay health workers. To date, 26 healthcare workers have already died.
The World Health Organisation sees these figures ‘worrisome’ as health workers cover 15% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines compared to the 2-3% for the Western Pacific region.
Amidst a national health emergency, medical workers are fighting a two-front battle—dealing with an increasing number of COVID-19 patients, while also facing the shortage of PPEs meant to prevent themselves from being infected, as well as infecting others.
Since the start of the pandemic, prices of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gowns, have seen an almost two-fold increase in price. Some individuals have resorted to hoarding much-needed medical supplies. Shortages ultimately leave doctors and nurses exposed and ill-equipped to care for patients.
In light of the shortage of PPE, the Commission welcomes the Administrative Order No. 07-2020 from the Bureau of Customs, which aims to expedite the customs clearance of tax and duty-exempt importations of PPEs and other medical goods urgently needed by our citizens, frontliners, and medical supplies manufacturers in this public health emergency. This initiative, together with the recent acquisition by the DOH of one million PPEs, should help hospitals to access the much-needed supplies.
The Commission equally commends DOH for its partnership with the Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines and its research on other innovative ways to decontaminate PPE for safe reuse in the midst of the ongoing worldwide shortage.
However, the recent announcement of the infection of 43 health workers at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and the subsequent scaling down of COVID-19 specimen testing due increase of sick personnel is a huge blow to the efforts of the government to ascertain the number of COVID-19 positive individuals.
It is then recommended that DOH reviews its policy to decentralize and ensure that more labs are accredited or made capable of conducting real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT PRC) tests. It is also imperative to ensure the efficient transportation of medical equipment and other lifesaving saving devices through sustained coordination with hospitals and local governments. The procurement of PPE must also remain transparent and in full compliance with government procurement standards.
In the end, our health workers are our best shot in putting an end to the pandemic. We honor them for their sacrifices, but adequate resources and care, such as ample rest and support for their mental health, should also be assured by the government and other authorities.
The Commission, in these trying times, sends its condolences to family members, friends, and medical professionals who have lost loved ones and friends due to COVID-19. And in curbing COVID-19, we truly hope that no one will be left behind.
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