Filipino nurses call on Duterte government to provide adequate protection & support due to COVID-19

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The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) reiterated on Thursday the call for adequate protection and support for nurses comprising the majority of frontline health workers in this battle against  coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), now declared a pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO).

FNU earlier expressed dismay with the government’s catatonic response, with Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III even admitting and conceding last March 11 that he should have declared a public health emergency much sooner.

The declaration would have enabled government units to take immediate and necessary measures to control the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Instead, nurses and other health workers were left to their own device, running low on basic personal protective equipment (PPEs).

With the DOH forecasting 75,000 cases in the next three months and the current mortality rate at eight to nine percent, it can be projected that around 6,000 people in the country will die from COVID-19.

“This is an alarming number which must be addressed with swift and appropriate measures to prevent further infections, improve the recovery rate of patients and lower their mortality rate all while health workers at their side are given adequate protection,” said the FNU in a statement.

The statement was sent by Maristela P. Abenojar, RN, MAN, of FNU.

“We must flatten the curve of projected COVID-19 cases: slow the spread to a halt and cure those presently known. It necessarily follows that nurses and other health workers must have the highest level of precaution especially front-liners most vulnerable to infection. This risk is heightened by the surging number of cases,” the FNU said.

Now, given recent findings cited by WHO that COVID-19 might also be transmitted through the air, higher-standard PPEs such as N95 masks must be provided as minimum to protect nurses, their patients and their families.

The government must ensure that the public health system is adequately funded to efficiently and effectively deliver services responsive to the people’s needs, especially during this crisis, the group said.

The gross neglect of people’s health even before COVID-19 has made the country severely unprepared for the resurgence of infectious diseases such as polio and dengue fever, much less a pandemic.

Knowing that there is an approved P2.5 billion supplemental budget, P13 billion DOH contingency fund and P7.5 billion disaster fund, the grave deficiencies and inefficiencies during this state of calamity are inexcusable. “There should be systematic and coordinated distribution, support, subsidy and stockpiling in LGUs and hospitals of protective gear, medical supplies and other necessities,” FNU said.

Aggravating the situation is the harsh, arbitrary and poorly implemented enhanced community quarantine which has inconvenienced not only the poor but also the nurses. The placement of personnel without adequate planning, training, detection tools, PPEs or even compliance with social distancing guidelines has only led thousands crowded and stranded at checkpoints, exposed to potential cross-contamination.

Among them were nurses sent back home and refused passage despite presenting their IDs, severely impacting the available workforce which even before the outbreak has been overstretched, overloaded and constantly reliant on incoming staff. Leaving work, these nurses experience stigma due to a populace fed with misinformation, alarmist messaging and confusing instructions.

Nurses and other health workers have yet to receive the care and compensation they deserve. For many who are contractual workers, the outbreak has doubled economic burden with their “no work, no pay” policy.

Nurses have faced difficulties going to and from their respective health facilities since March 15 due to absent public transportation and insufficient alternatives despite promises by the government.

WHO’s declaration of the Year of the Nurse in “recognition of the nurse’s critical role in improving health outcomes” would be empty without strong state support to nurses in performance of their tasks, while strengthening public health through free basic services and adequate nurse-to-patient ratio.

In this light, FNU strongly urges the following be done to prevent the further spread of COVID-19:

  1. Provide free, immediate and accessible mass testing for early detection and isolation of patients;
  2. Provide free medical assistance and treatment for identified cases;
  3. Prioritize local production of testing kits and PPEs in allocating budget, personnel and other resources;
  4. Ensure adequate isolation and negative pressure rooms through identification, assignment and repurposing of buildings and health facilities nationwide;
  5. Immediately hire additional nurses and other health workers to attain the safe nurse-to-patient ratio in hospitals and communities;
  6. Provide adequate transportation, high-standard PPEs and medical assistance for nurses and other health workers;
  7. Create special health committees in various health institutions, hospitals and communities for intensive education drives on disease prevention, infection control and health promotion;
  8. Ensure adequate supply of water, soap and other hygiene supplies in hospitals and communities;
  9. Provide subsidy for contractual nurses, health workers, and employees in general who are under “no work no pay” policies; and
  10. Request assistance and coordinate with countries and international organizations who have developed vaccines, medications, and other effective measures to address COVID-19./Stacy Ang
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