Hospitals and frontliners experience total pandemonium
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2020 - 12:00am

We have been through natural and man-made calamities, but nothing has been more terrifying than this COVID-19 health pandemic. The number of infected persons are exponentially rising worldwide, the number of cases in our country will have its peak in the coming months. The arrival of donated test kits from Singapore, South Korea, China and billionaire Jack Ma have helped but that’s not enough. Hospitals have been crying out for help all over the country. They need basic supplies like alcohol, gloves, N95 masks, goggles, PPEs, disinfectants, ventilators, more beds, tents, air conditioning units, food, etc. What is the President doing with his “special emergency powers”? How will he use it? Why don’t we feel any change? We continue to drown in the deep blue sea, helpless, anxious and uncertain.

Both the private and public sector have donated huge amounts of money to Malacañang and to the Department of Health (DOH) but where is the money? Where is government’s Covid-19 response package of P27.1 billion? What happened to the P12 billion dividends released by Pagcor not to mention the P150 million donated by the POGOs? What about the P100 million from the SM group? Is the President and Secretary Duque choosing the recipients of these donations? How are they distributing the donations? Are the Covid-19 designated hospitals (which by the way took very long for the Secretary to approve): the Lung Center of the Philippines, the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital getting any support?

The Covid-19 designated hospitals need help – big time. But why are they still continuing to ask for help from the private sector? Why isn’t the DOH prioritizing their needs? Government has the resources but where are they going? Why can’t other government agencies help Secretary Duque spearhead the much-needed medical equipment and supplies? The National Kidney Transplant Institute for instance is desperately seeking help as they had to set up a tent wing for Covid-19 patients. They need to equip the tents with medical facilities which include hospital beds, medical equipment, supplies and airconditioning units. One would think they would immediately get full support from government. The PGH is in the same dilemna just like the other private and public hospitals. 

Why do the hospitals need to beg? Why can’t government work out the immediate support groups? We have so many government workers. Why aren’t they being tapped to do the logistics or even help the frontliners? Why are the doctors left with such technical burden when they need to focus on the recovery of the patients?

The government’s “turtle express” is not helping at all. Why are we only relying on one institution to test Covid -19 patients? The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) has a long backlog of Covid-19 test results. All private and public hospitals (around the country and in the different islands) who test their patients need to send all specimens to the RITM and results are released after almost a week or so (longer for those in other islands). Worse, more often than not, patients continue to walk the streets or die not knowing they were Covid-19 positive.

Mind you, the accuracy of the test kits and their evaluation are also questionable.  The handlers don’t get the proper rest; they are overworked and they surely lack manpower. The test kits are not perfect either. Don’t forget Spain had to return the Chinese kits they bought because they failed to detect positive cases. And why is it taking so long for DOH to use the local test kits developed by scientists from the Philippine Genome Center and the UP Manila’s National Institute of Health, led by Dr. Raul V. Destura? They are definitely cheaper (at P1,320 compared to the foreign ones) and can show results in hours.

Such situations are the casues of why cases are under reported. Once hospitals get the “do-it-yourself” test kits then we can get higher accuracy rates. And this is when we will surely see a suddent peak in the number of cases. So, the Covid-19 battle is not yet over. The government has not conquered it head on because it has not gotten its act together. Pandemonium has taken place. Those who claim that the test kits are not a priority are insane and out of their minds. In the first place how would you know who is afflicted with Covid-19 without testing? The Covid -19 test kits are vital. We need accurate ones to help speed up the control of the virus.

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Clearly, our health system is at the brink of collapsing. It is very weak.  According to Jose Lorenzo Lim of the Ibon Foundation, in his article, Covid-19 and the Philippines Healthcare System: Looking at available health facilities, data from the DOH shows that there are 1,236 hospitals in the country as of 2017. Of these, 65% are private hospitals which are the main beneficiaries of the insurance-based healthcare system through the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act. The WHO recommends 20 beds per 10,000 population. The Philippines has never reached the recommended ratio. This indicator even worsened from 14.4 beds per 10,000 population in 1990 to only 9.9 beds per population in 2014, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).  When it comes to community health services, only 47% of barangays had barangay health stations in 2018. He further wrote: There is also a significant shortage of health personnel in the country. The PSA reported a ratio of one government physician to 33,000 Filipinos, which is far from the WHO recommended 1:1,000 doctor to population ratio. In 2016, the DOH said that the country is in need of 15,000 doctors to meet the healthcare needs of Filipinos each year.

In the same article, Lim wrote: The number of public health nurses is also dismal at a ratio of 1 to 50,000 Filipinos. Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) data show that despite the scarcity of government health workers, the country has been exporting nurses for decades, which is worsening the brain drain of the health sector… These shortages in medical facilities and personnel are due to government’s low prioritization of the health sector as seen in the national budget. While it seems good that the health sector budget has increased from P177.7 billion in 2019 to P185.5 billion in 2020, its overall share in the national budget has fallen from 4.9% to 4.5 percent. The P7.8 billion or 4.4% increase in the health sector budget is even eaten up by inflation.   

Another problem is the surge of hospital bills a patient needs to deal with. There are countries whose governments cover all hospital/ medical expenses of Covid-19 patients. Here, Covid-19 test cost as much as P10,000. Sanamagan! Can’t our “special emergency powers” just cover all tests for all patients in both private and public hospitals? Or would one rather die than be drowned in the medical expenses.  By the way, how do politicians and government officials get immediate results of their Covid -19 tests? Why does Secretary Duque allow special treatment for them? Sanamagan!

So, Mr. President, Happy Birthday! You are a year older and a year wiser. It is time to show us your might. Things are not clearing up on the horizon. We need to get this country going or else we will find ourselves at the losing end. We better shape up. Show us what you can do this time around! Action speaks louder than words.

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