2022 PH vice presidential race

Willie Ong pushes for new infectious disease hospital to free up PGH

Pia Ranada

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Willie Ong pushes for new infectious disease hospital to free up PGH

HEALTH FOCUS. Willie Ong says he will use his medical knowledge to craft the country's pandemic response, should he win as vice president. Isko Moreno Domagoso Facebook screenshot

Philippine General Hospital spokesman Doctor Jonas del Rosario agrees the facility should go back to being a major referral general hospital

MANILA, Philippines – Willie Ong, the only vice presidential candidate with a medical background, is proposing the establishment of hospitals dedicated to infectious disease to allow existing hospitals to cater to their regular patients.

This was Ong’s answer when asked what about the Duterte administration’s COVID-19 pandemic response he would change, during a Rappler Talk interview on Monday, January 31.

Marami eh (Many). Number one, we really need to build a hospital. We need to build an infectious disease hospital, maybe 500-bed, 1,000-bed because we cannot place all of our COVID-19 patients in PGH (Philippine General Hospital),” said Ong.

Ang laking harm. If you put the COVID-19 patients there, all the other operations will stop. Paano ‘yung mga surgical operations for kids, mga heart patients, what about cancer patients needing chemotherapy? Kawawa ‘yon, they will be delayed two to three months,” he added.

(It’s a great harm. If you put the COVID-19 patients there, all the other operations will stop. What about the surgical operations for kids, heart patients, what about cancer patients needing chemotherapy? They’ll be pitiful because they will be delayed for two to three months.)

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the PGH has served as the country’s main COVID-19-dedicated hospital. But it also serves as the country’s premier public hospital for all major ailments. The country already has a special national hospital for infectious diseases, the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

Doctor Jonas del Rosario, PGH spokesman, agrees with Ong’s proposal.

He told Rappler that when PGH became a COVID-19 referral center, it had to limit its admissions of non-COVID patients.

“As much as 50% of our healthcare workers had to be assigned to the COVID wards which compelled us to limit the non-COVID specialized services that only PGH can provide, especially to the marginalized,” said Del Rosario.

The situation also affected the training intended for PGH residents and fellows. Because many of these young doctors had to help man the COVID-19 wards, they could not pursue as much training in the fields they wished to specialize in.

“PGH was not meant to be a primary infectious disease institution. We have answered the call for help by the country but I think PGH has to go back to its mission of being a major referral general hospital catering to various diseases and an academic institution that produces specialists who will be movers in their respective fields,” said the PGH spokesman.

107,000 more hospital beds in 1,000 days

For Ong, building more hospitals is the best solution to pandemic challenges like lockdowns with their adverse economic impact.

“The reason we are always going into lockdown is because we lack hospital beds. Second, we need more medicines, not only for COVID-19, but for high blood pressure, diabetes. We need medicines for mental health, for depression. Those are very expensive,” said Ong.

Since Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Ong launched their bids, they said they would build more hospitals, respond better to the needs of healthcare workers, and stock up on more COVID-19 medicines to allow the country to reopen the economy safely.

While it’s true that high hospital occupancy levels trigger the escalation of alert levels, pandemic response also entails preventing infections in the first place.

In Moreno’s economic platform launched on Monday, he said he would implement a “clear” pandemic response that involved isolation, tracing, and vaccination, apart from medical treatment.

While there were no details about how isolation, tracing, and vaccination would be done differently, the tandem gave more concrete targets for improving COVID-19 treatment.

They now plan to add 107,000 hospital beds in their first 1,000 days to reach a target ratio of 1.7 hospital beds for every 1,000 individuals.

But boosting the healthcare system is also about making sure there are enough doctors and nurses to actually do the health care. More hospitals and hospital beds would be useless without them.

Moreno and Ong thus aim to increase the salaries of health workers, regularize nurses who are on job order arrangements, and ensure they get special risk allowance.

To attract health care professionals to stay in the country, the tandem would offer scholarships for students in medicine and courses like nursing, medical technology, and pharmacology. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.