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MANILA, Philippines – After criticisms of her visit in Caballo Island with Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang, Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin said she is willing to go back, if necessary, and visit the 133 peacekeepers from Ebola-hit Liberia who are in quarantine.
“Kung may problema, we can go there, if there are problems with the soldiers. But as of now, wala naman. In place na ‘yung protocol and communication,” Garin said on the sidelines of the budget hearing of the Department of Health (DOH) at the Senate Monday, November 24.
(If there’s a problem, we can go there. But as of now there’s none. The protocol and communication are already in place.)
The peacekeepers, who initially tested negative for Ebola, arrived last November 12 and are currently under a 3-week precautionary quarantine on Caballo Island, a Philippine Navy outpost in Cavite City. One of them tested positive for malaria.
Garin had repeatedly defended her decision to visit the peacekeepers, seeing nothing wrong with her actions.
She said she and Catapang needed to go to the island to reconcile the protocols of DOH and military in looking after the health of the soldiers, and to include the island’s command chain in the meetings.
Catapang, who went with Garin without wearing any protective gear, said the visit was also meant to highlight the fact that there’s nothing to worry about Ebola.
But doctors and legislators alike blasted the Cabinet officials for supposedly breaking quarantine protocols. The Philippine College of Physicians said the breach was in the failure to wear any protective gear. Senators Vicente Sotto III, Francis Escudero, Pia Cayetano, and Joseph Victor Ejercito also expressed their concerns.
On Monday, both Cayetano and Escudero approached Garin at different times in between budget deliberations. Sotto shook her hand after his 3-hour interpellation of the department’s budget. (READ: Don’t shake hands with Sotto and Ejercito)
Garin said the clamor on her visit is already a resolved issue.
“It’s an unfortunate incident, but it’s an opportunity for all of us to clear some of the misconceptions,” Garin told reporters in a mix of English and Filipino.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, November 19, clarified that patients suffering from Ebola only become infectious once they develop symptoms. It also added Personal Protective Equipment is in limited supply across the world and should only be used when necessary. (READ: WHO clarifies Ebola protocol amid senators’ panic)
The Ebola virus, which can be transmitted through bodily fluids, causes severe fever, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, it also causes organ failure, unstoppable bleeding, and can kill victims in just days. (READ: 5 misconceptions about Ebola)