EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - April 8, 2021 - 12:00am

Hospitals in Metro Manila are now bursting at the seams. Without immediate intervention, we may face a total collapse of the country’s healthcare system, resulting in more people getting sick or dying.

With the surge in COVID-19 cases – breaching the 15,000 mark last week – people are falling like flies. Stories of death after death come in daily.

COVID-19 is ripping through Metro Manila and nearby cities. The virus is getting closer to home, if it’s not in yet.

And just when we need it most, proper health care has become increasingly difficult to access because hospitals in Metro Manila have reached capacity.

People are dying in makeshift tents, inside ambulances parked by the curb side, or while waiting in their cars.

I am sure our frontliners don’t want to turn away people, but they have no other choice. Republic Act 8344 prohibits hospitals from turning away patients, but most hospitals in Metro Manila can simply no longer accommodate COVID-19 patients.

The government must do something to address this emergency. The Department of Health (DOH) must act fast to expand health capacity, especially in cities with the most COVID-19 cases.

Where I live, local authorities have converted a school building into an isolation facility for mild cases. My neighbor was brought there where he was attended to.

But we need more than just isolation centers. We need more equipment such as ventilators to be available in hospitals. As it is now, doctors are forced to choose which COVID-19 patient gets to use the limited number of ventilators. We also need more health workers.

We need emergency treatment facilities where people can go to when the usual hospitals can’t accept them anymore. It is the responsibility of the government, the DOH most especially, to provide these options.

Access to health care is a right

You know your government has failed you if you cannot access health care services.

This is after all our constitutional right.

According to Section 15, Article II of the 1987 Constitution: “The State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people...”

And every time Filipinos lose their access to health care, the DOH repeatedly fails in its mandate.

The DOH is the overall authority on health and is mandated to implement our constitutional right to health care.

As the number of cases exponentially rises, the DOH must act and remain faithful to its mandate as ever.

There are suggestions from the private sector to repurpose some hotels and schools into temporary health facilities.

Humanitarian crisis

Whatever is doable, the DOH should do it immediately. It needs to press the circuit breaker on this capacity problem.

Otherwise, a humanitarian crisis may indeed erupt, as Sen. Francis Pangilinan has warned.

The lawmaker is urging the government to step up efforts to test, trace, and treat as many cases as possible to cut the transmission chains and suppress the pandemic “or face a humanitarian crisis that will overwhelm the country and wipe out families.”

It’s a scary thought and I don’t want to worsen the already bleak outlook, but I cannot overemphasize the need to expand health care capacity especially in Metro Manila.

While quarantine restrictions help, authorities cannot rely on this every time there is a surge in cases. There should be a more proactive response in expanding health care capacity than just stopping the flow of patients.

We should know by now that there’s no telling when this pandemic will end and there’s no telling how many more variants will develop before we wake up from this nightmare.

The DOH said more than 80 percent of intensive-care capacity in Metro Manila is already filled.

Others are turning to unapproved medicines such as Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic veterinary drug, as a possible COVID-19 cure. This even as Ivermectin’s manufacturer said there is no basis in using the drug as a cure for the virus.

I also hear of Filipinos who are opting not to get vaccinated. But I strongly believe the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks. I hope that with the help of their doctors, reluctant Filipinos will be convinced to take the jab.

Home care

Against this backdrop, more and more people are doing home care, some supervised by medical professionals.

A friend of mine who recovered from COVID-19 shared her daily home care routine, supervised by a doctor--hydrating with at least one liter of water including ginger juice or lemon water, doing a steam bath for at least 20 minutes twice a day, practicing breathing exercises and bathing in the sun. I hope this information can also help others in similar situations. She also took prescribed medicines, but she said it would be best to consult one’s doctor. My friend’s symptoms weren’t mild. She didn’t think she would survive.

While home care can work for some patients, it’s not always possible to intubate in one’s home, especially if there is no doctor in the family.

Thus, I reiterate my appeal to the DOH to address this problem of health care capacity immediately.

As I’ve said, it is every Filipinos’ right to have access to health care, more so in this difficult time.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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