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12 doctors in PH lose lives in fight against COVID-19

Jairia Dela Cruz
31 Mar 2020

The Philippines has lost 12 doctors in the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic as a result of being at the forefront of the battle against the infectious disease, according to the Philippine Medical Association (PMA).

PMA communicated its concern about the disproportionate number of deaths, which accounted for more than 15 percent of 78 deaths that have been recorded locally as of March 30, saying that frontline healthcare workers are themselves becoming the victims of COVID-19. [https://www.philippinemedicalassociation.org/pma-advisory-for-our-covid-19-frontliners/]

Currently, about 5 percent of the country's healthcare workers are on quarantine, said PMA's Commission on Legislation Chair, Dr Oscar Tinio, in an interview with a local news outlet. He called for a need to protect the frontline workers and expressed hope that no more doctors would be added to the growing list of deaths.

Losing more healthcare workers to COVID-19 may spell bad news for the country, as the current doctor-to-patient ratio currently stands at 1:40,000, far from the ideal 1:10,000, Tinio pointed out.

Scant supply of PPE

The spate of deaths reflects the strain COVID-19 crisis has placed on medical workers struggling to control an outbreak that has already infected more than 1,500 people in the country. These deaths, according to PMA, might be partly attributed to nondisclosure of travel or exposure history by patients, violation of quarantine protocols by people under investigation or monitoring, and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Anecdotes from social media posts reveal that amid the PPE shortage, some healthcare workers have bought protective gear with their own money, relied on donations locally and abroad, or improvised their own. In some photos, nurses, doctors and other medical professionals are seen donning plastic bags from head to toe to protect themselves from the infectious disease. Some have even fashioned face shields from excess foam and recyclable plastic containers.

Tinio appealed to the Department of Health (DOH) to increase the supply of PPE, as well as medical equipment, both in public and private hospitals. Meanwhile, Rustico Jimenez, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, stated that hospitals are being subjected to bureaucracies that prevent “immediate release” of donated supplies.

In a separate interview, Jimenez told a local news agency that DOH, which has received PPE and N95 mask donations, requires hospitals to file a request stating where and when they want the supplies delivered. These requests should be done away with, and the provision should be immediately distributed to save the frontliners, he said.

Bravery and dedication

Despite the risks, close to 600 Filipino doctors and nurses have volunteered to support the fight against COVID-19, answering the plea of the DOH for aid as the number of cases in the Philippines rises by the day.

The request was made after several private hospitals declared having been overwhelmed by an influx of confirmed and suspected cases in their facilities.

The health department said it will implement a "two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off" policy where volunteers render 2 weeks of providing care for COVID-19 patients and go on 2 weeks of mandatory quarantine after.

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