Manila: The Philippines is challenged by the outbreak of the dreaded Ebola virus due to the health department’s small budget and the few number of isolation rooms prepared nationwide in case it enters the Philippines, sources told Gulf news, adding that the Philippines is vulnerable because of the impact of free international travel, and the presence of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the three West Africa countries where the outbreak has already claimed 1,000 lives.
“The number of isolation rooms that were been prepared to handle cases of Ebola virus in the Philippines might not be adequate (in case the virus enter the Philippines),” said Health Undersecretary Janette Garin.
“Being ready for the Ebola virus is such a strong word — although we have experts who can deal with the Ebola problem, including facilities in different parts of the country where we can bring patients afflicted by Ebola virus,” admitted Health Department’s program manager, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy.
“The health department has allocated P50 million (Dh4.16 million) for the infectious disease programme,” said Suy, adding, “The allocation is small, but members of congress have agreed to increase the budget ahead of the possible entry of the Ebola virus in the Philippines.”
“The threat of the Ebola virus entering the Philippines is real because travel bans have not been issued, “ warned Ludovico Jurao, head of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, who likewise admitted that regional medical centres nationwide have prepared isolation rooms for Ebola cases.
“We are monitoring our preparedness. We have to be alarmist in responding to this health problem because we have OFWs in West Africa where the virus has claimed lives,” explained Congressman Walden Bello, chair of the Congressional Committee on overseas Affairs.
On a more positive note, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said, “The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and other government hospitals nationwide are equipped to undertake laboratory tests for possible Ebola cases.”
Health, itinerary checklist
“The Philippine health department has required all local and foreign travellers entering the country to fill up a health and itinerary checklist to guide us,” said Ona, adding that all air and seaports have been equipped with thermal scanners to detect the temperature of arriving passengers.
As a result, there was a close monitoring of 15 OFWs who arrived from June 25 to July 15 from Sierra Leone with fever, a symptom linked to Ebola virus infection. “Luckily, 13 of them were cleared of the Ebola virus last August 8,” said Ona.
Two other OFWs might soon be cleared of the Ebola virus, said Ona, adding this will be known on August 28.
“Health workers have extended their monitoring period to one month, beyond the 21 days incubation period for the Ebola virus to manifest symptoms on patients, such as bleeding, diarrhoea, high fever, muscle pain, organ failure, vomiting, and weakness,” Ona explained, adding, “The relatives and nurses who monitored the OFWs were also placed under strict medical observation.”
Earlier, Manila’s labour department called on OFWs in West Africa to return to the Philippines so that they would not be affected by the outbreak of the Ebola virus.
The labour department likewise suspended the deployment of OFWs to these countries, but allowed OFWs with existing employment contracts to return there.
“As a precautionary measure, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was instructed to undertake weekly monitoring of OFWs in the Ebola-hit West African countries,” Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said.
“Filipino seamen were also instructed not to leave when their ships dock in West African countries hit by the Ebola virus,” Baldoz added.
Manila’s department of foreign affairs also told OFWs in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, to “take extra precaution by restricting non-essential movements and avoiding public places”.
International agencies say there are 5,000 OFWs in the Ebola-hit West African countries.
In comparison, the POEA has a shorter list of 600 OFWs, including 72 OFWs in Guinea; 202 in Liberia; and 398 in Sierra Leone.
The foreign affairs department has also a different list: 880 OFWs in Guinea; 632, including 148 members of the UN Peace keeping Force in Liberia; and 1,979 in Sierra Leone.
The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, said the World Health Organisation. There have been 1,711 cases of Ebola and 932 deaths in four West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, said the WHO which called on all countries to implement emergency measures to prevent the spread of the dreaded virus.