YEARENDER: MERS virus in Philippines: Close call for DOH
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines almost had its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) last year when a suspected case – a 63-year-old Saudi Arabian man – died while vacationing in the country in September.

But after consulting the World Health Organization, Health Secretary Janette Garin said it was a false alarm.

“It was not considered as our first death because we were not able to confirm anything (through laboratory tests). MERS or not, our priority then is to make sure that we are able to protect the public from possible infection,” Garin told The STAR.

She said emerging and re-emerging diseases, like MERS-CoV, bird flu and Ebola virus, are among the biggest challenges facing the Philippines and the entire world.

The Saudi national died Sept. 29, two weeks after arriving in the Philippines for his regular vacation. Initially asymptomatic, he developed cough, high fever and occasional chills.

The Department of Health (DOH) was notified about his death only after the victim underwent light embalming at a funeral home so he was no longer subjected to MERS-CoV examination.

The DOH was able to trace around 100 people who came in contact with the patient and they all tested negative for the virus.

 Productive year

According to Garin, 2015 was a challenging but “very productive” one for DOH because the Aquino administration was entering its last year.

“2015 is like the year of reviewing what has been done – the changes that the administration has created, the good things that it was able to create for the Filipino nation. The next jump is how to make it sustainable. To sustain the gains of the Aquino administration, 2015 is very important,” she said.

Garin said the DOH was able to “put in place a lot of things in its attached agencies,” particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

The DOH had scaled up its hospital facility enhancement program (HFEP), including those run by local government units, to enable them to provide better health services.

“But we cannot just modernize a hospital and go. We have to make sure that there would be enough manpower to do the work. So, with the help of sin tax, we also hired people for the hospitals. That is sustainability,” the health chief explained.

The hiring of health workers and hospital improvements complemented the expansion of PhilHealth’s benefit packages and projected increase in membership to 95 percent next year.

 

ACIRC AQUINO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH DRUG ADMINISTRATION GARIN HEALTH HEALTH SECRETARY JANETTE GARIN MIDDLE EAST RESPIRATORY SYNDROME-CORONAVIRUS PHILIPPINE HEALTH INSURANCE CORP SAUDI ARABIAN WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
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