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DOH: COVID-19 cases among health workers drop

Shiela Crisostomo, Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
DOH: COVID-19 cases among health workers drop
Philippine General Hospital (PGH) spokesman Jonas del Rosario maintained that while the vaccines may not be 100 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infection, they have “more importantly” protected health care workers from severe or fatal infection.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — The number of health care workers infected with COVID-19 has gone down as most of them have already been vaccinated, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday“We’re getting this kind of report also from our other hospitals where there has been a decline in the number of health workers who get infected. This is because most health workers are fully vaccinated,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a briefing.

While some reports may be “anecdotal,” they can somehow prove that the vaccines “really work,” she said.

Last Thursday, Philippine General Hospital (PGH) spokesman Jonas del Rosario posted on Facebook the hospital’s experience with COVID-19 vaccines Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

Del Rosario said that as more PGH health care workers got fully vaccinated, the total number of COVID-19 infections among the frontliners decreased.

He pointed out that of the 6,052 fully vaccinated frontliners of PGH, 23 acquired the virus.

Del Rosario maintained that while the vaccines may not be 100 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infection, they have “more importantly” protected health care workers from severe or fatal infection.

“Comparing the number of infections in 2020 (without vaccines) and 2021 (with vaccines) in May and June, one can conclude that the vaccine works,” Del Rosario added.

With the detection of more Delta variant cases in the country, senators urged the government to act swiftly and decisively to prevent another COVID-19 surge.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the DOH and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) should be ready for a possible surge in Delta variant cases following the DOH announcement that at least 35 such cases have already been detected in the country.

“Is the government ready in the event there would be surge because of the Delta variant? What are the response measures? Are our health care facilities and workers ready for such an eventuality?” Sotto said.

He said it is important that the people are aware of what the government is doing to ensure their safety.

Sotto suggested the re-imposition of stringent movement protocols against the holding of mass gatherings, which he said could easily become super spreader events.

“We can still go on GCQ (general community quarantine) but we must be very strict against mass gatherings. We must push for our economic recovery but it is equally important to make sure that our people are safe from the virus. The public’s good health should be the ultimate target when coming up with response measures,” Sotto said.

Sen. Joel Villanueva called on the government to step up its hiring of health personnel, beginning with the 5,008 nurses who hurdled the recent board exams.

“Our frontliners need reinforcement. We’ve spent 16 months fighting this pandemic, and the unseen enemy has been mutating into more dangerous strains,” Villanueva said.

He said the 5,008 passers of the nurses licensure examination held earlier this month can ease staffing shortages in public hospitals and other health facilities.

Another talent pool the government can draw from is the batch of 1,234 doctors who passed the licensure tests in May.

Villanueva said the government should provide funds to the DOH “so the latter can go on a hiring binge.”

And to boost the morale of frontliners, “we have to make sure they are paid what is due them on time and in full,” Villanueva added.

War level

He said the staff complement of government health facilities should be “raised to war level.”

“Most are running on manpower best suited for ‘peacetime’ conditions, not during this pandemic,” he said.

Even if government facilities have beds and equipment, “you need personnel to man or operate them,” he pointed out.

As of December 2020, there were 30,396 nurses in public hospitals and 24,969 in primary health care facilities such as rural health units in towns. “This comes up to about five nurses per 10,000,” Villanueva said.

The DOH has a payroll budget of P61.14 billion this year, a figure that does not cover personnel in hospitals and health centers run by local governments.

This year, the DOH has a P16.7-billion budget for its health personnel deployment program, where it assigns doctors, nurses, midwives and other health workers to underserved localities.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson lamented that government health authorities have developed the “medicine cabinet attitude.”

“It is sad that as individuals, we have developed this wrong attitude of checking on our medicine cabinets at home only when somebody already gets sick or hurt, when we should always be prepared with making available medicines for common colds, cough, fever as well as unexpected injuries and emergencies,” Lacson said.

“But it is pathetic that our national health authorities are no different, being reactive instead of proactive. Knowing the Delta variant has already gripped India and Indonesia, it seems they have not prepared adequately,” he said.

The reports involving the vessels from Indonesia that moored in Butuan – where the crew became potential spreaders of the Delta variant – are a case in point to highlight the “medicine cabinet” attitude of the authorities.

Nothing has changed

He said it seemed that nothing has changed from early 2020, when health officials failed miserably in the conduct of contact tracing on the fellow passengers of a Wuhan couple who traveled from Cebu to Dumaguete and Manila.

“Worse, government refused to close our borders to travelers from mainland China travelers when we already knew that the first known COVID-19 patient came from Wuhan, China in December 2019,” Lacson said.

That said, the first order of the day for the next leader of the country is to scout for a more qualified and better person at the helm of the DOH, “and make sure that business and health don’t mix, especially during a time of extreme emergency like the pandemic,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos has sought to protect local manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies from a “tax variant” that the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) released in June.

Marcos was referring to BIR regulation 9-2021 that revokes a 12 percent value added tax (VAT) exemption on the sale of raw materials, packaging supplies and other services to export-oriented manufacturers that include critical health care suppliers.

“This mutation of tax regulation threatens to cancel gains some exporters have already made toward economic recovery and will push them back into a critical state,” Marcos said.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, cited the case of garments exporters that have been able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic onslaught by adapting their production to the manufacture of PPE, surgical masks and other medical goods.

COVID-19 HEALTHWORKERS
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