In the line of fire

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok - Columnist/CDN Digital | March 29,2020 - 07:00 AM

At yesterday’s press briefing held in the Capitol by Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, two groups presented their respective designs of personal protection equipment PPE customized for healthcare workers now battling the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The frontliners face an enormous task. Backbreaking work for long hours is just the physical pain, but the psychological torment of watching their patients wither away and lose it is a different kind of agony for health care workers. As if this is not tragic enough, the situation is being aggravated by a lack of protective gears or personal protection equipment. As one nurse said, the work is beyond overwhelming. It is a nightmare.

Incidentally, the lack of PPEs was highlighted during a World Health Organization meeting last week between WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesusthe and health ministers from 50 countries including China and Singapore. The WHO executive heard developments in the fight against the novel coronavirus, new approaches and challenges being faced by the 50 or so countries in their continuing battle to beat the pandemic.

The WHO executive then told news reporters that the health ministers shared experiences in controlling the virus in which they highlighted the “need for early detection and isolating of confirmed cases; the need for identification, follow-up, and quarantining and of contact tracing.” Lockdowns or in the PH setting, its milder version called Enhanced Community Quarantine alone will not eradicate the pandemic, according to Mr. Tedros.

What is interesting is the countries’ common concern over the lack of protective gear for healthcare workers. Filipinos are used to finding organic ways and solutions during a crisis, so we are no longer dismayed to see our frontliners covered in garbage bags, what Pinoys call para-paraan equipment (make do gear).  Still, how disconcerting to hear that wealthy nations like the US and even China, the worlds top two superpowers have failed to protect their medical workers. 

It was learned that WHO has shipped close to 2 million PPEs to 74 countries and is expected to ship an equal number to 60 countries. WHO has stockpiled PPEs in response to the Ebola outbreak that ravaged West Africa in 2014 to 2016. Unlike face masks which we can source from pharmacies and retail outlets, the UN-prescribed protective equipment has technical characteristics to insure that medical workers are protected from the viral disease. 

By the way, the WHO-issued PPE comes with gloves, mask and gown and may include goggles, faceshields, head cover, and rubber boots. I wonder if the Department of Health has already received the shipment of PPEs from the WHO.

Since the number of infected cases are growing exponentially, the lack of PPEs will put healthcare workers in the line of fire, so to speak and more pressure on the public health system. Hospitals in Manila are already turning away COVID-19 patients because they can no longer be accommodated.

The Covid-19 tally as of last night: 1,075 cases with 68 deaths. Epidemiologists doubt these figures because the government has failed to conduct massive tests and many coronavirus carriers are asymptomatic.

The lack of PPE has prompted LGUs to tap non-government organizations, who in turn are collaborating with local suppliers to fill the gap in protective gear. At yesterday’s press briefing at the Capitol, two groups gave Governor Garcia a presentation of their customized PPE complete with a demonstration on how to don and doff the protective gear.

It was not clear whether the provincial government will place orders for PPE but should a deal materialize, it would be similar to what is now happening in New York and California. Hospitals there are turning to seamstresses to make PPEs and reusable masks.

Protecting and saving the lives of our health workers in the time of pandemic cannot be overstated. To quote WHO executive director Tedros, “When health workers are at risk, we’re all at risk.” /dbs

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