Duque admits health workers die in line of duty due to lack of PPEs, dishonest patients

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted the growing list of health professionals dying while battling the coronavirus disease pandemic is due to a lack of protective gear available as well as patients who were dishonest about their condition.

Facing lawmakers on Thursday, April 16, Duque said the initial lack of personal protective equipment (PPEs) led to medical workers succumbing to COVID-19, which has so far infected at least 152 doctors and 63 nurses while in line of duty. 

“But one of the factors too is the PPEs that we were struggling to import, especially in the initial phase of this COVID-19 [pandemic]. Of course, now we have been able to finally import although not enough for the long term,” Duque said. 

The Department of Health (DOH) has already already purchased P1.8 billion worth of PPEs for health workers on the front lines against COVID-19, which has infected 5,660 people in the country as of Thursday afternoon. 

Duque also attributed the death of health workers to patients who did not immediately disclose their history of travel or exposure to a COVID-19 case.

"Some patients who had deteriorated, they did not disclose their history of travel, history of exposure, and that really put at risk some of our healthcare workers, doctors in particular,” the DOH Secretary said

“It is a big number of doctors lamentably and regrettably who have passed on, died. And it hurts me and I know it hurts every one of us to have to deal with this,” he added. (READ: Left in the dark: Little protection for government’s coronavirus frontliners) 

There has been a severe shortage of PPE stocks across the globe as COVID-19 continues to spread in different countries. The lack of supplies prompted health professionals to create their own improvised PPEs. Several organizations and individuals have also been donating and even creating PPE sets for hospitals in need.

The DOH also modified its testing protocol to prioritize health workers experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19 along with other members of the population vulnerable to the deadly disease.  

Duque said the health department continues to “ramp up” its efforts to protect health workers nationwide. He also urged patients to be more transparent about their medical condition. 

“Sana magawan pa natin ng paraan ‘yong proper disclosure ng mga pasyente para hindi po malagay sa alanganin ang atin pong mga healthcare workers, lalung-lalo na po ang mga doktor (I hope we can do something about patients’ proper disclosure of their condition so our healthcare workers will not be put at risk, especially our doctors),” Duque said.

In the same hearing, Duque urged lawmakers to pass a bill that would create the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Philippines and to approve a measure that would allow the government to stockpile on much-needed supplies in times of disasters. 

Senators have already called for Duque’s resignation for failing to handle the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Rodrigo Duterte, however, still trusts the embattled DOH chief. – Rappler.com

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said the coronavirus has killed at least 152 doctors and 63 nurses while in the line of duty. These figures refer to those infected with the virus. As of April 8, 12 health workers have died due to the virus.

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.