Filipino Doctors Back from Africa Want OFW Ban, Quarantine to Stay

MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday said the deployment ban on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and the 21-day quarantine period would continue to be imposed on travelers arriving from three West African countries as the dreaded Ebola virus remained a global threat.

At a press conference, acting Health Secretary Janette Garin said the decision to proceed with the safety precautions the Philippines has been observing since the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia last year was based on the recommendations of the Ebola rapid response team.

The team, composed of six Filipino infectious disease experts from San Lazaro Hospital—one of the designated “prepared institutions” for Ebola—arrived in the country on Feb. 3 after a two-month stay in the three West African countries.

The team was composed of Doctors Alberto Ponce Belarmino II, Romulo Villamor Jr., Emerson Malala, Rhona Marie Fulgar, Antonio Villanueva and Hamilcar Morta.

The doctors, who were part of an interagency team that included the Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine National Police and Department of Labor and Employment, went to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to observe, assess and provide recommendations on the safety and security of OFWs deployed there, said Garin.

“We thank our six doctors who sacrificed their Christmas and New Year so they could help our OFWs in the Ebola-stricken areas,” said Garin, who welcomed the team during the flag ceremony at the DOH in Manila yesterday.

“They gave valuable input and important insights which led our government to learn crucial lessons on the best actions to take to ensure that the Ebola virus will not affect our countrymen,” Garin said.

She said the team’s recommendation was for the government to maintain the 21-day quarantine for arriving OFWs and foreign travelers from affected countries and to continue the nondeployment of workers in the meantime.

“There is a fear that the health care systems in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are not yet effective,” she said, pointing out that an OFW seeking medical treatment for a simple illness like hypertension may find it hard to get help in those countries.

“At this point in time, their health care systems collapsed… so if you are a Filipino working there and you are sick, you have no place to go,” said Garin.

Villanueva, who was deployed to Liberia, said 90 to 95 percent of the hospitals in the Ebola-stricken countries remained closed to prevent the risk of admitting an Ebola patient. “Definitely, of the three countries, Sierra Leone is the most in need with regard to the health situation,” he said.

As of Feb. 6, the deadly virus had claimed 9,004 lives out of 22,525 who were infected in the three countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Villanueva said that prior to their deployment to the three countries, they had to undergo extensive training and briefing on the Ebola protocol, especially the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment and garments and the health emergency management system.

“When we left, we were 50 kilograms overweight in medical equipment just to make sure that we were safe,” he said.

But the DOH was quick to clarify that the team did not have any contact with Ebola patients and only visited Filipinos to assess their situation amid the outbreak. The health agency said the doctors also observed a 21-day quarantine period in an undisclosed country before they returned home.

(Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer)

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