Meet 4 women on the frontlines of PH’s battle vs the coronavirus

Sofia Virtudes
Meet 4 women on the frontlines of PH’s battle vs the coronavirus
As Women's Month closes, we put the spotlight on RITM's Dr Celia Carlos, DOH's Maria Rosario Vergeire, Xavier University's Dr Analyn Asok, and PGH COVID nurse Kathlyn Valdez

MANILA, Philippines – In a race against time, women are heeding the call to war against the coronavirus pandemic.

In the Philippines, as March ends, the cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has surpassed 1,000 – from only 3 cases at the beginning of the month. (READ: 343 new coronavirus cases in PH, bringing total to 1,418)

Frontliners, experts, and individuals are exhausting efforts to protect and save the public from infection.

As Women’s Month comes to a close, Rappler honors 4 Filipinas who are at the forefront of the country’s battle against the pandemic.


Celia Carlos

Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) director Celia Carlos. Photo from RITM official website

Dr Celia Carlos is the director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the research arm of the Department of Health (DOH), and arguably the most hectic facility in the country lately.

As the country’s national reference laboratory for infectious and tropical diseases, the RITM plays a significant role in addressing the coronavirus crisis. Until last week , the RITM had been the only institution in the country duly accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to test samples for COVID-19. (READ: Where are testing centers for coronavirus in PH?)

Assuming the highest post in a most critical institution, Carlos has been a subject of a few controversies.

There were speculations that amid the shortage of test kits for possibly infected patients,  Health Secretary Francisco Duque III relieved Carlos of duty for supposedly refusing to prioritize VIPs or government officials in the administration of tests. Duque denied after he was criticized on social media for naming an OIC despite Carlos’ presence.

Netizens have since rallied behind Carlos, who was praised for her integrity despite pressure from the higher-ups. (READ: VIP treatment in coronavirus testing not a policy, says DOH


Maria Rosario Vergeire

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES. DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire gives updates on the status of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines on February 17, 2020. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire makes her daily appearance in press briefings as the health department’s spokesperson. Aside from keeping the public up to date with the latest total cases of COVID-19, deaths, and recoveries, Vergeire’s job is to explain issues, like mass testing, in terms that the general public understands. (READ: Coronavirus mass testing not needed for now – DOH)

Vergeire has also shown relative transparency with regards to backlogs and challenges that the Department of Health (DOH) is facing. For instance, she had earlier admitted that reports of delays in test results were true, despite DOH’s previous claim that results would be available within 24 to 48 hours. (READ: DOH admits PH health care system ‘challenged’ by virus testing demand)

Filipinos online have since been commending Vergeire for being straightforward and for diligently answering questions, even the ones that deal with matters that the DOH has been criticized for. (READ: After backlash, DOH studying increase in health workers pay)


Analyn Asok

Xavier University (XU) - Ateneo de Cagayan Chemistry Department Chairperson Analyn Asok. Photo from Xavier University official website

Groups and experts have stepped up to help address the shortage of supplies and protective gear for the frontliners. (READ: PH youth step up: Scientists, engineers fill gaps in coronavirus response)

Among these groups is Dr Analyn Asok’s team from Xavier University (XU) in Cagayan de Oro, which took the initiative to produce local versions of ethyl and isopropyl alcohol for the health workers in Northern Mindanao. (READ: Xavier University produces rubbing alcohol to shield health workers from coronavirus)

Asok, the chairperson of XU Chemistry Department, led the initiative along with fellow chemists and experts to aid the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC), the COVID-19 referral hospital in the region, which was experiencing a shortage in supply of rubbing alcohol. (READ: Northern Mindanao’s largest public hospital saves lives against the odds)

Asok’s team did what they could with the limited materials available from their laboratory, and with the help of the campus’ biology department. They produced 32 bottles of 70% ethanol and 11 bottles of 70% isopropanol with moisturizer, all of which adhere to WHO’s recommended formulation. They are set for hand over their donations to the NMMC.

The team is planning to expand their production with the help of other departments in the university.


Kathlyn Valdez

Kathlyn Valdez works as a nurse at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). Photo from Kathlyn Valdez

At least 9 doctors in the Philippines have succumbed to the virus in the line of duty. (READ: 9 Filipino doctors die fighting at front lines vs coronavirus)

Kathlyn Valdez knows this – that the dangers the medical frontliners face are graver this time around. A nurse at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) for two years now, she is assigned in a ward that was recently converted into a unit that caters to COVID-19 patients. (READ: PGH accepts DOH’s request to be coronavirus referral hospital)

Valdez said that the first few days of the Luzon-wide lockdown were especially difficult for them – on top of the escalating fear and panic brought about by the crisis, many health workers had to face the ordeal of going to work when mass transportation had been suspended. (READ: Frontliners in a bind: Health workers fined P5,000 for backriding)

Among the challenges that hospital workers like her face, Valdez said, is the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs), which, if not addressed, would place the frontliners in more serious danger, the WHO have warned . (READ: DOH assures hospitals of PPEs for coronavirus response)

The overall lack of support for the frontliners also shows in inadequate compensation offered by the government. There’s also the emerging issue of discrimination against frontliners, cases of which are becoming more violent. (READ: After bleach thrown at personnel’s face, Sultan Kudarat hospital condemns discrimination)

But amid these challenges, Valdez said the frontliners would nonetheless continue the fight until the enemy is defeated.

“This must be one of the most challenging battles that our institution has ever faced,” said Valdez, “but we are giving our best efforts to fight this.” –

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