7 OFWs from Sierra Leone monitored for Ebola

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Seven overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who came from Sierra Leone, one of the countries worst hit by the Ebola virus, are being monitored by health officials.

Department of Health (DOH) spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy said the seven OFWs were among the 15 repatriated by their recruitment agency from Sierra Leone. They arrived on different flights from June 26 to July 15.

“They all came in healthy but what would we do since the incubation period is two to 21 days? We wouldn’t know when the manifestation would come in so the DOH through our Health Emergency Management Service is to call on them everyday. We have their contact numbers,” Suy said.

Only three of the 15 workers developed fever but were eventually cleared by doctors, along with five other workers. So far, only seven are still under the DOH’s close watch, he said.

Sierra Leone, along with Liberia and Guinea, is among the three countries gravely affected by the Ebola outbreak.

Suy said the 15 workers have been briefed on why the DOH would have to monitor them. “We need to call them everyday to monitor how they are doing, just to make sure we do not miss a single case that could become a problem eventually,” he said.

As a procedure, if a worker develops symptoms, the DOH coordinates with its regional office having jurisdiction over the worker’s location. The local office would then pick up the worker to bring him to hospital for isolation and examination.

Lee-Suy gave assurance the Philippines remains free from Ebola but it does not want to take chances since it usually takes up to 21 days for the symptoms to manifest.

Because of this, the DOH is on the lookout for those who have history of traveling to affected countries.

Unlike other infectious diseases, an Ebola patient “has to manifest the symptoms first before (being) capable of transmitting the infection,” Lee-Suy said.

He said the country’s experience in dealing with infectious diseases from abroad, including the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-CoronaVirus, is helping them deal with Ebola now.

“We are not starting from zero with Ebola because our coordination with other concerned agencies continues… It’s actually like we’re fine-tuning our system on how it goes, which is good so that when things happen, we know what to do,” he added.

On the other hand, the military said the virus has infected none of the Filipino soldiers serving as peacekeepers in Liberia.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the movement of Filipino peacekeepers in Liberia has been restricted following the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

Zagala said the restriction is part of the precautionary measures implemented to ensure the safety of United Nations contingents.

“All non-essential movements are restricted. All offices remain open but personnel should limit their movements between their accommodations and their offices,” Zagala said.

There are 115 Filipino soldiers in Liberia, all of them members of the Philippine Air Force. Led by Col. Glicerio Peralta, the peacekeeping team was deployed last December and is expected to end its tour of duty in September or October.

Zagala said the UN has issued a memorandum outlining the precautionary measures as early as March.

In the memorandum, all peacekeeping teams were directed to suspend routine meetings with local communities “unless determined relevant to the chain of command.”

Off-duty movements that go beyond offices and barracks have also been prohibited.

UN contingents in Liberia were also advised to avoid direct physical contact such as handshakes and kissing and direct contact with body fluids of infected or dead persons or animals.

Peacekeepers were also discouraged from making direct contact with animals like fruit bats and apes and from eating their raw meat.

UN encouraged members of the peacekeeping teams to wash their hands with soap and water as frequently as possible and to treat water with chlorine before drinking.

Zagala assured the families of Filipino soldiers that everything is being done to ensure their safety.

“Our peacekeepers deployed in Liberia were already advised to follow strict regulations being implemented to prevent further contamination,” he said.

On the lookout

Health Secretary Enrique Ona urged returning Filipinos manifesting fever, headache, intense weakness, joint and muscle pains and sore throat to get health clearance from their country of origin.

Most at risk to contracting the virus are medical professionals who are often exposed to secretions and specimens from infected individuals, and family members in close contact with the infected.

Some 1,200 individuals, mostly in West Africa, had been infected with the virus that has left at least 670 dead across the region since the start of the year.

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian also urged the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) to be on the lookout for exotic animals imported from Africa, as these could be possible carriers of the deadly Ebola virus.

Gatchalian expressed apprehension that exotic animals from Africa entering the country’s ports are not being closely monitored enough by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through PAWB, which grants the necessary import permits for such animals.

“The DOH has secured the ports of entry for humans. How about for exotic animals which enter the country illegally? There is a huge illegal exotic animal trade in the country,” he said.

Ebola, which first emerged in 1976 in two parallel outbreaks, is believed to be carried by animals hunted for meat, including bats. 

The virus spreads among humans via bodily fluids and has reportedly killed 56 percent of those it has infected in the current outbreak.

The World Health Organization said Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. “In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.”

West African countries like Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are struggling to contain an epidemic that has infected some 1,200 people in the region.

Liberia alone has registered 129 deaths from Ebola, which causes severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea and, in the worst cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. – With  Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero


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