'Grave deficit' in face masks forcing some private hospitals to use old linen

MANILA, Philippines – The lack of supply of face masks in the Philippines has reached “grave” levels that some private hospitals have been forced to improvise with old linen to help protect their health personnel from the novel coronavirus.

Philippine Hospital Association Dr Jaime Almora raised the alarm on Wednesday, March 11, as the Department of Health (DOH) briefed  he House committee on health on the status of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. (WATCH: House briefing on coronavirus status)

“There is, there is, madam, danger, a grave deficit in the number of PPEs (personal protective equipment). We are resorting actually to improvising, like we turn our old linen into cloth masks,” Almora said when House panel chair Angelina Tan asked if they had enough supplies. 

This is in stark contrast to the steady supply of face masks and PPEs the DOH is getting from Bataan-based manufacturer Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) for government health workers. 

Undersecretary for Procurement and Supply Chain Carolina Vidal Taiño said the DOH currently has 59,000 pieces of N-95 masks in stock for public health workers nationwide, enough for a month’s supply. She said the PITC has committed to provide them at least 30,000 pieces every week.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III explained that the demand for face masks has increased not just in the Philippines but across the globe, where more than 100 countries have recorded a positive case of COVID-19, the disease caused by 2019-nCoV. 

Still, Duque said the DOH was willing to give extra face masks to private hospitals in need, but government health workers would still be the top priority.  

“We are told also that the need has become so acute that the global supply chain is really under pressure. Hindi talaga nila ma-supplyan dahil (They really can't supply all because) 104 countries have COVID infection, almost 50 have local transmissions, and so they just have to ramp up their supply chains, Madame Chair,” Duque said.  

“But if we have some extras, we would be certainly willing to let the private hospitals have some. But we cannot promise that what they need we will be able to respond to because our priority is the public health workers,” the DOH chief added.  

In the Philippines, citizens had been panic-buying face masks in the past weeks as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 33 as of Tuesday evening, March 10.  

This is despite the World Health Organization’s reminder that face masks should be reserve for high-risk people like the elderly and health workers who have to take care of confirmed cases. 

On February 3, President Rodrigo Duterte said the government would procure more surgical face masks for Filipinos as stockpiles continue to be depleted. He has already declared a state of public health emergency due to the novel coronavirus. – Rappler.com 

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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.

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