Is PH prepared for Ebola?

Voltaire Tupaz
Is PH prepared for Ebola?
Combatting the Ebola threat is a top priority of the Aquino government, Malacañang says, following a recent WHO report claiming the disease has killed nearly 5,000 people. But much more needs to be done.

MANILA, Philippines – Combatting the Ebola threat is a top priority of the Aquino government, Malacañang reiterated on Sunday, October 26, in the wake of a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report claiming the disease has killed nearly 5,000 people mostly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Todo tutok po ang ating Pangulo at ang Gabinete sa isyung ‘yan. (With) highest importance po ang pagtingin sa banta ng Ebola,” Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in an interview over DZRB Radyo ng Bayan.

 (The President and the Cabinet are closely monitoring the issue. Dealing with the Ebola threat is of the highest importance to the government.) 

President Benigno Aquino III earlier said the Ebola outbreak is one of the global challenges that concern the Philippines because of the presence of about 12 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) across the world.

To address the threat posed by what is now considered the biggest Ebola outbreak ever recorded, the Aquino government adopted the same approach it employed in dealing with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

‘Whole government approach’  

Describing the strategy as a “whole government approach,” Interior Secretary Mar Roxas gave assurances the government has contingency plans that will address the threat. 

“It’s not just a healthcare issue, it is a whole of people issue that’s why it was the whole of government led by the President that addressed, not just tried but successfully addressed that matter,” Roxas said. 

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is part of an interagency task force mandated to manage emerging infectious diseases in the country. The Philippine National Police (PNP) traced arriving passengers who tested positive for the MERS-COV.

In a text message, Roxas said the DILG and PNP are working closely with the Department of Health (DOH) to implement protocols, saying that the PNP is ready ro respond if the need arises.

Roxas also said local government units were “advised to strictly follow DOH guidelines on the matter”

Training health workers 

Meanwhile, DOH, the lead agency in the task force on emerging infectious diseases, will train first-line health care workers in public and private hospitals to prepare them for the potential entry of Ebola. 

According to Health Secretary Enrique Ona, the training, to be conducted in partnership with WHO, includes guidelines on infection prevention and control, clinical management and isolation, laboratory diagnosis. Particiants will also participate in demonstrations and hands-on sessions.

October 28-30
  • DOH referral hospitals
  • Philippine General Hospital
  • AFP Medical Center
  • PNP General Hospital
November 4-6
Private hospitals in major cities
November 11-13
Local government units

The training builds on the lessons learned in previous efforts to prevent and treat diseases such as MERSCoV and H1N1, according to WHO Representative for the Philippines Dr Julie Hall.

“All health workers must adhere to the protocols provided to keep them and their patients safe,” Hall stressed.

The deadly virus can be transmitted through bodily fluids, causing severe fever, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea, and in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. (READ: Fast Facts: Ebola)

Step up preparedness 

Despite the preparedness efforts being undertaken by the government, there is still much to be done, Dr Anthony Leachon, President of the Philippine College of Physicians, told Rappler.

“There might be preparedness efforts but they’re not comprehensive. We need to step up,” Leachon  said, noting that there are no specific checklists on what agencies and other stakeholders need to do.

Leachon stressed the need to conduct massive information dissemination, update protocols, and deploy resources. He also suggested a process that the current approach of the government lacks – “above-the-country preparedness.”

Citing recent studies, Leachon said that the more effective way to prevent the spread of Ebola is not the “entry screening” but the “exit screening” for passengers entering the country. He suggested the following process that will combat the threat of the disease:

  • Exit screening in West Africa
  • Quarantine for 21 days for OFWS before departure
  • Exit clearance through blood tests and questionnaire before traveling back to the Philippines
  • Quarantine for 21 days OFWs who are suspected to harbor symptoms

“Even countries with the strongest regulatory and health care systems like the US have failed. We need to intensify our preparedness (efforts),” Leachon said.

The need for a more comprehensive preparedness approach needs to be quickly addressed as thousands of OFWs and foreigners are expected to arrive for the Christmas season and as Pope Francis’ visit approaches, Leachon said–

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