Health workers on gov't pandemic response a year later: 'Inefficient, negligent, failure'

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Health workers on gov't pandemic response a year later: 'Inefficient, negligent, failure'
Health workers of St. Jude Family Hospital in Los Baños, Laguna receive on March 25, 2020 donated personal protective equipment from different business sectors in the province.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — Health workers fighting the pandemic in the country for nearly a year now have lamented the Duterte administration's poor response to their needs, describing their condition as deplorable.

The Philippines on Saturday, January 30 marked the first year since it confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, a Chinese tourist from Wuhan, the COVID-19's ground zero. The figure would eventually soar to more than 523,000 infected and nearly 10,700 dead a year later.

Some 14,393 medical workers have since contracted the virus to date per data from the health department, with fatalities at 83 and active cases at 303.

In a statement, the Alliance of Health Workers described government's response to their plight as having "remained extremely slow, numb and deaf" and that there had been no difference in their working conditions from the grueling year that was 2020.

"Nothing has changed in our situation," said Robert Mendoza, AHW's national president. "Many health workers from the regions still lack of protective gear, severe understaffing in public hospitals and health facilities that lead to health workers to extend long hours of duty, low wages, over delayed of payment of miniscule and selective benefits such as actual hazard duty pay and special risk allowance."

Some of the difficulties Filipino health workers have had to grapple with are violence and discrimination, as well as delay in compensation and release of their hazard pay.

Many have also protested the administration's move earlier to halt their deployment abroad. And while the rule has since been relaxed, there remains a cap of only 5,000 medical personnel allowed to leave the country in the hopes of better wages at a time when the economic impact of the COVID-19 had been harsh at home.

"If the DOH and the Duterte administration are really sincere in our well-being, they will not make it difficult for us to get the benefits that are for us," Bonifacio Carmona Jr., a national officer of the AHW, said. "What is happening is that we still have to protest before they will give our hard-earned benefits."

The group had hit as well the administration's pronouncement in telling the public to "not be picky" on vaccines, especially with health workers at the top of government's list to be prioritized for the jabs.

Palace's remarks, which were backed by President Rodrigo Duterte, came following criticism over its apparent preference for the Chinese-made Sinovac whose price and results remain unclear.

"Many health workers declare that they will not present themselves to be vaccinated until there is proof that the government can ensure their safety. What we want is a vaccine that is safe, high efficacy and effectiveness rate, and with reasonable price without tongpats. Along with this is a massive testing, contact tracing and proper isolation,” Mendoza said.

Duterte's administration has long faced mounting criticisms related to the pandemic, from its handling deemed as militarized, to its bid to secure doses and deliver its promise of 50 million inoculated in 2021 described as lagging in the global race.

Only recently, an independent think tank placed the Philippines in the 79th spot out of 100 nations in their pandemic response, making it one of Asia Pacific's underperformers.

Its overall figures by end-January 2021 are not far from the said assessment, with the country remaining as the second highest in infections count in Southeast Asia, next only to Indonesia's over a million cases and nearly 30,000 deaths now.

"A year has passed, but the basic problem confronting health workers in relation to the Covid-19 issue remains," AHW said. "To date, the government has not had a clear comprehensive plan on how to fight and eliminate COVID-19. Health workers evaluated the DOH and Duterte administration’s one-year performance in handling COVID-19 pandemic as inefficient, negligent and failure."

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