Nurses seek clearer direction, greater protection in the face of 2019-nCoV global health emergency

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The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) joined its fellow nurses globally in calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to “strengthen its interim guidance on infection prevention and control to protect the nurses and other healthcare workers who are at the heart of patient care and essential to the response to 2019-nCoV.”

The Global Nurses United (GNU), an international organization of nurses’ unions in more than 28 countries that counts FNU as an affiliate, formally raised its concern to the international health agency last January 30 noting the alarmingly rapid spread of the 2019- nCoV contagion since it was identified late last year.

In barely 2 months, the 2019-nCoV has claimed almost 400 deaths, infected roughly 20,000 individuals in almost 30 countries and still no sign of letting up and with no definitive formula of treatment yet developed that WHO already raised it to the highest level of alert as a “public health emergency of international concern.”

“ Nurses being in the frontline of the battle against this deadly virus are clearly the most vulnerable in catching infection thus our call for a more prompt, vigorous and unequivocal approach by our respective governments”, Maristela Abenojar, FNU President, said.

“We, nurses in the home front, are actually distressed over the seeming languorous treatment by the government of the pandemic even as the first recorded death outside China has happened in our own backyard. Despite the ignominy of having the first death, incomplete and insufficient protective gears for front-liners, unavailable protective masks for a panicky public, poor coordination between and among government agencies – our highest health official can still smugly assert that the country has not a “weak” public health system. With all due respect, we beg to disagree,” Abenojar added.

Even before this grave health threat of 2019- nCoV has emerged, the Philippine public health system is already in crisis and deteriorating because the state does not treat health as priority.

The already low health budget is further cut resulting to less medical supplies, lack of or poorly maintained medical equipment and generally less amount and quality of health service for the mostly poor patients who seek the services of public hospitals and health centers, she said.

“Filipino nurses, in general, have always strove to give the best care possible even under dire circumstance of working much for so little pay. At this time of grave threat posed by the 2019 nCoV, efforts will be heightened and attention focused at protecting the population’s general safety, at the same time, help avert the spread of this deathly virus. But the long-existing problems in the workplace cannot be sidetracked nor overshadowed as they impact on the overall delivery of health care. To wit, the overcrowding of public hospitals and health centers that are often short or lacking in supplies and equipment; understaffing and heavy patient load so nurses are often forced to work on extended hours of 12-16 hours per duty attending to more than the safe number of patients plus the paper works and supervisory functions because of personnel shortage,” Eleanor Nolasco, FNU Vice President explained.

Even the private health sector that should complement the public health system are confronted with the same problems of heavy nurse to patient load, poor work conditions and subsistence wages resulting to an increasing number of nurses resigning or looking for alternative work.

Consequently, a number of private hospitals are reportedly closing or merging wards because of shortage of skilled nurses.

As the decade ends under an extreme health emergency, 2020 has also been fortuitously declared by WHO as the Year of the Nurse in “recognition of the nurse’s critical role in improving health outcomes.”

“With no doubt, the Filipino nurse, like possibly all other nurses across the world, will rise to the occasion to perform her oath of service despite all odds. However, as (people’s) health is the state’s responsibility, the government must ensure that the public health system is adequately funded to efficiently and effectively deliver health services responsive to the people’s needs, especially during health crises. At the same time, health human resources must be truly valued and justly compensated. Only then can we rightly claim that our public health system is not weak but rather strong and competent to face a health menace as daunting as the 2019 novel coronavirus, ”Abenojar said./STACY ANG

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