Residents of Old Balara in Quezon City receive hygiene kits from personnel of Quezon City during their distribution last March 18, 2020.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
Groups call for COVID-19 testing, better support and pay for health workers
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - March 22, 2020 - 2:24pm

MANILA, Philippines — Calls for stringent testing and better conditions for frontline healthcare workers have been mounting in the past week as the Philippines continues efforts to curb a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The Philippines has 380 confirmed cases of the new pathogen in the Philippines after the Department of Health disclosed 73 more confirmed cases on Sunday.

READ: Social distancing's victims: In a Luzon quarantine, the disabled are mostly forgotten

Healthcare group Coalition for People's Right to Health (CPRH) in a statement on Sunday raised the alarm over what they said is the vulnerable state that healthcare workers are in amid the outbreak.

"A just compensation, hazard pay, humane working hours and provision of PPEs is just as important as the respect and honesty that is owed to the toiling frontliners, with or without COVID-19," the group said. 

"From experiencing mandatory quarantine to severe cases of respiratory distress and now even death, health professional and workers are literally giving their lives in the service of the nation and its people during this pandemic."

There have been private sector initiatives to help frontliners, including calls for donations and food drives

CPRH stressed, however, that "now more than ever, the government must ensure the safety and dignity of these health care workers facing the brunt of this disease."

'Test kits handed out like candies'

Youth group Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) has also spoken out against what it said is the elitist testing of politicians despite Department of Health (DOH) guidelines on priorities for COVID-19 testing. 

READ: Why some are saying 'social distancing' is a privilege

This came days after Senators Francis Tolentino, Pia Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Imee Marcos, Grace Poe, and Ramon Revilla Jr. got privately tested by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who is second in the line of presidential succession after the vice president, was tested at his office.

The youth group said that "test kits were handed out to them like candies at a time when there are only 2,000 test kits available."

According to the Department of Health's algorithm for the triage of possible COVID-19 patients as of March 11, only patients experiencing "severe and critical" symptoms are to be tested for COVID-19. 

According to the triage tool, there is "no need to test" patients who are classified as persons under investigation (PUIs), who are instead instructed to undergo home quarantine. 

"While bureaucrats are hoarding test kits for themselves, Filipinos are driven to desperation — working Filipinos are deprived of food and livelihood due to Luzon-wide lockdown, health workers are risking their lives 24/7, and local government units (LGUs) are left on their own devices," the youth group said.  

"All of these are happening, while Duterte and his gang are enjoying first-class health services."

'Health workers a high-risk population'

Health workers at the frontlines on long shifts are among those most exposed to the virus. 

On Saturday, the Philippine Heart Association said on its Facebook page that a young, unnamed cardiologist had contracted COVID-19 and passed away “while fulfilling his duties as a doctor."

One ranking member of the Health department also tested positive for the disease on Tuesday, the department confirmed in a statement. 

READ: DOH director tests positive for COVID-19

"Given the increased loss of manpower due to constant exposure to suspected cases, CPRH demands that the DOH actualize its previous vague pronouncements on testing health workers," the coalition said in their statement.  

"Beyond PUIs and surveillance, health workers must be regarded as a high-risk population that is tested regularly (such as every two weeks), in order to guide hospitals and facilities in monitoring and rotating the already overburdened frontliners, of whom the medical community cannot afford to lose any further."

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier told Philstar.com that patients were only tested "just three times" per day while only “about 200 to 250 people” were getting tested a day at the RITM.

DOH data shows that only about one in every 100,000 Filipinos has been tested for the new pathogen since the onset of the outbreak.

"In truly valuing and thanking health workers, the least society can do is ensure their safety from the disease they give their best in treating," the coalition said. — with reports from Ratziel San Juan and Prinz Magtulis

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