DOH ‘buwis buhay’

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - February 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Our problem with COVID 19 is far from over, but now is a good a time to commend or praise government officials and employees particularly in the Department of Health for doing their jobs professionally, rationally and passionately. In case many of you have not noticed, our health workers including their boss, Secretary Francisco Duque, are all wearing thin or showing signs of fatigue, stress and understandably even expressing sentiments that their efforts are not appreciated. While many of us have been busy worrying about “slow government action” or “lack of leadership,” few have recognized the “buwis buhay” dedication of health workers who were exposed to “Patients Under Investigation,” – volunteers who risked their lives to check, monitor and accompany Filipinos returning from China and the attacks that Secretary Duque has had to endure as the Department came under fire for choosing to be deliberate and scientific rather than politically correct or populist.

Looking back, we now know that the DOH was fighting a battle with one hand tied to its back because they are dealing with a NEW form of virus, dependent on data that was controlled from Ground Zero by local officials in the City of Wuhan and eventually filtered by the Chinese government before being passed on to the World Health Organization which in turn processed and shared the information belatedly. To make things even more complicated, the officials in the frontline against the COVID virus had to consult and consider actions and impact not just on the health front but also in terms of tourism, diplomacy, and the economy not to mention political fallout as we now are experiencing with the inclusion of Taiwan in our travel ban based on the policy of the WHO that only recognizes China.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining and for the Department of Health, their many challenges forced the public, Congress and Malacañang to admit and recognize the fact that we have not made the right investments in health care. Beyond the political and aspirational dreams of having Universal Healthcare, COVID 19 showed us that we need to immediately modernize the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine or RITM so that we can quickly identify potential threats such as COVID 19. We learned that all our debates and arguments about clean air and objections to incinerators all fly out the window if we ever had to dispose of hundreds of dead bodies the same way they are now doing in Wuhan, China.

COVID 19 also revealed the serious need to lay down the rule for disposal of contaminated cadavers without having to end up in the news or get into debates on race and patriotism. Thanks to Vince Dizon of the BCDA, we were able to solve the problem of finding a quarantine facility in such short notice, but we now have to find an island, perhaps Corregidor or several islands in the regions that could be developed as designated quarantine areas for the future. COVID 19 revealed how little is given and done for health workers who are in high risks assignments such as emergency rooms or directly exposed to suspected COVID patients. The threat of COVID 19 now forces all hospitals and clinics to redefine their operational procedures and policies in accepting walk-in patients in light of potential contamination. Yes COVID 19 has all of us running scared, but it also helped open our eyes to see and acknowledge a lot of the problems, accept the solutions and most importantly RESPECT and APPRECIATE our health workers. Thank you to each and every one of you both in the private sector and especially those under the DOH all over the Philippines for placing your own lives at risk to protect others. God bless all of you.

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Last Wednesday, I came across an article that featured an Instagram post of Vanessa Bryant, the widow of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

“My brain refuses to accept that both Kobe and Gigi are gone. It’s like I’m trying to process Kobe being gone but my body refuses to accept my Gigi will never come back to me. It feels wrong. Why should I be able to wake up another day when my baby girl isn’t being able to have that opportunity?! I’m so mad. She had so much life to live. I know what I’m feeling is normal. It’s part of the grieving process. I just want to share in case there’s anyone out there that’s experienced a loss like this. God I wish they were here and this nightmare would be over. Praying for all the victims of this horrible tragedy. Please continue to pray for all.”

A friend later shared how he as a physician was affected by the tragedies that hit his patients. The conversation made me realize that we often forget that even the doctors are affected by what hits their patients. Going back to Vanessa Bryant, I am thankful for her honesty and her appeal, because in seeking people who are similarly wounded, she reminds others that their tragedies need not be hidden or wasted in grief. There are many walking wounded among us who if they simply put their arms around the “Vanessas” in life and say, “I know, because I am one,” could mean the difference for someone to stay strong or just give up. If you are a survivor, wear your badge with honor and share your story. If you are wounded and hurt, call out just like Vanessa Bryant because when you do, you give the people who care, permission to lift you up, share their story and lead you through the difficulty. That’s how many survivors made it; not by sheer strength or courage but often because someone came back for them.

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