Pandemic-weary health workers stage rally at Manila hospital

Health workers from Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRMMC) in Santa Cruz, Manila staged a protest against their "deplorable" working conditions amid the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and to call for a higher 2021 budget for the Department of Health (DOH). 

(Photo from Alliance of Health Workers)

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) slammed the national government for seemingly not prioritizing health in the 2021 budget despite the alleged worsening COVID-19 situation in the country. 

"The Department of Health budget is only P127.7 billion and ranks number 8 only on the top 10 departments' budgeting for 2021. The COVID-19 response budget is only P11.95 billion which indicates that the DOH and the Duterte administration have no intention of suppressing the virus," its statement read. 

"Even the budget for health, safety, and protection of health workers has no specific budget," it added. 

John Paul Gubaton, JRMMC Employees Union-Alliance of Health Workers (JRMMCEU-AHW) vice president, also hit the health department for allegedly having around P2.2-billion worth of expired medicines and supplies in stock. 

"Public hospitals struggle to gather funds even for a spine needle, what more for the emergency purchase of COVID-19 medicines," he said.

JRMMCEU-AHW president Cristy Donguines said health workers assigned to non-COVID-19 wards have a higher infection rate than those catering to confirmed COVID-19 patients because, instead of full personal protective equipment (PPE), they only have N95 masks or surgical masks.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for almost 7 months now but our condition has worsened. The number of infected and dying health workers due to coronavirus continues to increase which is very disturbing," she said.

Data from the DOH showed that the number of COVID-19-stricken health workers in the country has reached 10,178 as of October 10.

Donguines cited the case of Judyn Bonn Suerte, a health worker from JRMMC, who contracted COVID-19 and was transferred to Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Quezon City because his work place had limited resources to treat him. He died on July 31.

The group said none of the health workers' demands for proper and sufficient protection, pay, and working hours, have been granted, leading to fatigue and burnout and their eventual resignation. 

This, in turn, leads to the worsening of understaffing in public hospitals.