Group warns of public health system breakdown

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
Group warns of public health system breakdown
This developed as seven medical organizations have expressed that the rise of rapid test kit usage may possibly be responsible for increasing cases of COVID-19.
Walter Bollozos, file

MANILA, Philippines – The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) yesterday warned of a possible breakdown of the public health system as the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues.

This developed as seven medical organizations have expressed that the rise of rapid test kit usage may possibly be responsible for increasing cases of COVID-19.

According to AHW president Robert Mendoza, the condition of the country’s public health system “has long been deplorable” due to lack of health personnel, inadequate supply of free drugs and medicines, lack of medical equipment and diagnostic procedures and badly-maintained and obsolete hospital facilities.

“This is the effect when health is not a priority. In fact, given the pathetic state of our public hospitals, the government still wants to privatize it,” he said.

Mendoza noted the pandemic had “exposed the rotten healthcare system in the country” which has become “burdensome in people’s pockets, which results to worsened people’s health and health workers’ health conditions.”

He underscored that the “understaffing in public hospitals is raging and has not been addressed… (which) caused infections and deaths of our fellow health workers” during the pandemic.

“AHW is deeply concerned over the growing number of public and private hospitals and health facilities announcing that they are already… (fully utilizing) their COVID-19 wards. As a result, they will no longer admit COVID-19 patients,” he added.

Ulysses Arcilia, president of the San Lazaro Hospital (SLH) Employees Association, said more staff at SLH are getting infected “due to lack of PPE (personal protective equipment), non-implementation of free mandatory regular testing to all health workers, working long hours and lack of manpower.”

“Before, we used to take care of our patients. But now, it hurts to think that we are taking care of our fellow health workers,” he lamented.

Meanwhile, seven medical organizations are worried over the rise in the use of rapid antibody test kits (RATs), saying this is “possibly responsible” for the surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.

The concern was raised in a joint statement of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID), Philippine College of Physicians, Philippine Medical Association, Philippine College of Chest Physicians, Philippine Pediatric Society, Philippine College of Occupational Medicine and Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians.

The groups warned that the continued use of RATs for clearance to return to work may result in infected individuals being cleared and inadvertently spreading the virus.

According  to PSMID treasurer Arthur Dessi Roman, there is nothing wrong with RATs, but “there are limitations in their accuracy and performance.” He underscored that these kits can generate false positive and false negative results.

“Some will be labeled as positive but they are not really positive. They will be isolated so the workforce will be reduced and the contacts of false positive will also be contacted,” he noted at a press briefing.

At the same time, there are people who will be reported as negative for the virus when, in fact, they are infected.

Roman added as a result of this, the false negative will have a “false sense of security” so they will no longer observe precautionary measures.

“Not because a test is available, we will already use it. A poorly performing test has consequences… We might only be wasting  time, resources and workforce,” he maintained.

The doctors have also expressed concerns over the use of “unproven” treatments such as steam inhalation and vitamin supplements to fight off COVID-19.

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