OFWs in Ebola-hit countries monitored weekly

Jee Y. Geronimo

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OFWs in Ebola-hit countries monitored weekly
The Department of Foreign Affairs estimates there are about 4,200 Filipinos in Ebola-hit countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is monitoring on a weekly basis overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in west African countries where the deadly Ebola virus have spread.

Nini Lanto, director of POEA’s OFW Health Concerns unit said recruitment agencies are now required to report to POEA on a weekly basis the status of their workers deployed in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Kung merong gusto pong worker na magpauwi, then dapat po ipapauwi nila ‘yan (If there are workers who want to go home, agencies should bring them home),” she said after a press conference Tuesday, August 5.

As of Friday, August 1, the World Health Organization said there had been 1,603 cases of Ebola and 887 deaths in the 4 west African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. (READ: Ebola death toll rises to 887 – WHO)

The Ebola virus can be transmitted through bodily fluids, causing severe fever, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

In some cases, it also causes organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. It can kill victims in just days. (READ: Fast Facts: Ebola)

Conflicting figures

POEA records show there are more than 600 Filipino workers in 3 of these countries:

  • Guinea – 72
  • Sierra Leone – 398
  • Liberia – 202

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) estimates a higher number of Filipinos in the 3 countries. Lorenzo Jungco, special assistant from the DFA Office for Migrant Workers, said on Tuesday that about 4,200 Filipinos are in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

“Most of them are highly-skilled workers: employees [doing] oil exploration, oil extraction, [and]…engineers, architects. There’s a very high level of protection for them; they’re very valuable to their employers,” Jungco said.

However, in a separate statement quoting DFA data, the Department of Health (DOH) said there are 3,491 Filipinos in the 3 countries, including the 148 Filipino United Nations Peacekeeping Force:

  • Guinea – 880
  • Sierra Leone – 1,979
  • Liberia – 632

Health Spokesperson Lyndon Lee Suy earlier said there are more Filipinos in Nigeria, where WHO reported one suspected case of Ebola. Jungco confirmed this, estimating roughly 4,000 Filipinos live in the west African country. 

Preventive measures

In July, DFA raised crisis alert level 2 in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, instructing Filipinos to “restrict non-essential movements, avoid public places, and take extra precautions.” (READ: Filipinos in west Africa warned vs Ebola)

This also means the Philippines will allow only OFWs with existing employment contracts to go to these countries; deployment of workers with new contracts remains suspended.

Lanto said POEA will soon issue a memorandum circular on protective mechanisms on Ebola and a reporting system for OFWs.

As for undocumented Filipinos, DFA is tapping into Filipino communities to spread information about the virus.

“We call on not only the undocumented Filipinos but all Filipinos in West Africa… The best defense we have is prevention,” Jungco said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Mass repatriation from the Ebola-hit countries remain an option “depending on the need,” Jungco said.

“We will look at that option, but as I’ve said, the primordial objective of the Philippine government is to ensure the health and well-being of the Philippines. We try as far as we could to stop the spread of infection. We would not like it that one infected person would go here in our country,” he added. 

DOH, DFA, and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) are part of an inter-agency task force created by President Benigno Aquino III last May to manage Ebola and other emerging infectious diseases in the country. (READ: Ona: Philippines ready for Ebola)

POEA is an attached agency of DOLE.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Tuesday said the Philippines is still Ebola-free. DOH is closely monitoring 7 OFWs who recently came home from Sierra Leone– Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.