CHR concerned about health workers' lives

By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

More and more of the country's brave frontliners are contracting the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has grown concerned that the lives of these health workers are being put at risk.

Commission on Human Rights (MANILA BULLETIN) Commission on Human Rights (MANILA BULLETIN)

The Department of Health (DOH) has recently confirmed that a total of 62 health workers from the National Center for Mental Health were infected with COVID-19. Worse, this number does not even include the 13 psychiatric patients who also got the virus.

As of April 22, 2020, the DOH likewise said that out of the 1,062 healthcare workers currently infected nationwide, 422 are physicians; 386 are nurses; 30 are medical technologists; 21 are radiological technologists, 51 are nursing assistants, and the rest - 152, are administrative staff and barangay health workers. To date, 26 healthcare workers have already died.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that these figures are "worrisome" since health workers with COVID-19 account for 15 percent of the total cases in the Philippines. In the Western Pacific region, the numbers are only two to three percent.

CHR Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said the country's health workers not only have to worry about the increasing number of COVID-19 patients on a daily basis, but they also have to face the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs) meant to protect themselves from getting infected.

"Since the start of the pandemic, prices of PPEs such as masks and gowns have seen an almost two-fold increase in price. Some individuals have resorted to hoarding much-needed medical supplies. Shortages ultimately leave doctors and nurses exposed and ill-equipped to care for patients," said de Guia.

Because of this shortage, the CHR said that the Administrative Order No. 07-2020 issued by the Bureau of Customs (BuCor) is a welcome move. The order aims to expedite the customs clearance of tax and duty-exempt importations of PPEs and other medical goods urgently needed by the citizens, frontliners, and medical supplies manufacturers in this public health emergency.

Together with the recent acquisition of the DOH of one million PPEs, de Guia said that the country's different hospitals will hopefully be fully equipped with much-needed supplies.

"The Commission equally commends DOH for its partnership with the Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines and its research on other innovative ways to decontaminate PPE for safe reuse in the midst of the ongoing worldwide shortage," added de Guia.

The CHR likewise recommended that the DOH review its policy to decentralize and ensure that more labs are accredited or made capable of conducting real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT PRC) tests.

De Guia also stressed that the DOH must ensure the efficient transportation of medical equipment and other lifesaving saving devices through sustained coordination with hospitals and local governments.

When it comes to the procurement of PPEs, the CHR said that the health department must also remain transparent and fully comply with government procurement standards.

"In the end, our health workers are our best shot in putting an end to the pandemic," she said. "We honor them for their sacrifices, but adequate resources and care, such as ample rest and support for their mental health, should also be assured by the government and other authorities."