EDITORIAL - Honoring the heroes

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Honoring the heroes

Murals were painted in recognition of their sacrifices and they were hailed as heroes of a pandemic that has killed over seven million people and infected 775,364,261 between Jan. 5, 2020 and April 21 this year, based on official data. Yet health professionals will be marching again today to press for higher pay including an entry pay of P33,000 for both public and private sector workers, release of benefits and job security.

Even before COVID-19 rampaged around the planet, the country has recognized the valuable service rendered by health professionals. Republic Act 10069, signed in April 2010, declared May 7 as Health Workers Day. But over a decade later, and even after the horrific death and misery unleashed by SARS-CoV-2, health workers still feel underappreciated. Many are still waiting to receive their emergency allowance from the pandemic days.

Today, a special working holiday in honor of their sector, thousands of health workers will be marching in different parts of the country to press for their long-standing demands for better pay and working conditions. Still mindful of the nature of their service, however, many members of organized health professionals’ groups will be unable to join the mass actions reportedly because the health facilities where they work are understaffed.

The pandemic highlighted the serious inadequacies of public health care in the Philippines. Because they were the frontliners in a battle where the weapons to fight back became available only after a year, the ranks of health professionals – and their household members – bore the brunt of the initial onslaught of COVID. Yet the health workers soldiered on, fashioning personal protective equipment out of garbage bags and packing tape and living away from home to minimize infection risks.

Even with the pandemic over, the country remains in dire need of health workers, as many continue to be lured by jobs overseas with better pay and working conditions. On the eve of Health Workers Day, the Alliance of Health Workers released this statement to describe their plight: “Health workers are getting depleted, demoralized and burned out. So, many have resigned, filed early retirement because of low wages, non-payment of benefits, no security of tenure and unsafe working conditions.”

Beyond creating a special day and heaping praise, the government can show its appreciation for the heroes of the health sector by addressing their demands for better working conditions.

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