Protect our frontliners
The heartbreaking, infuriating story of a nurse who was kicked out of her boarding house after testing positive for COVID-19 and was forced to camp out on a sidewalk in Makati highlights once more the pathetic state of our health workers, and the lack of support for them despite the tremendous health risks they face daily to care for infected patients.
The nurse—a customer care representative of a medical insurance company—said she would have gone back to the province after being evicted from her room, but for lack of public transport and the strict policy among local government units (LGUs) requiring returning residents to test negative for the virus before being allowed in.
After being turned away by a barangay health center, the nurse was forced to stay in the streets of Makati, where a Philippine Red Cross worker found her and brought her to the quarantine facilities of the Quezon Institute in Quezon City.
Just a week ago, frontline health workers suffered a public beating, with President Duterte virtually accusing them of fomenting revolution simply because they had asked for a “time out” from the unrelenting demands of attending to an ever-growing number of COVID-19 patients (more than 146,000 as of yesterday morning). Despite the measly pay—with entry-level salaries as low as P8,000, according to the labor department—health workers now stay on their feet for longer hours especially since infected patients are held in isolation, with nurses subbing for relatives. Most health workers, too, have to sleep in makeshift hospital quarters for fear of infecting their families, or for lack of transport to and from work.
Their hazard pay has turned out to be a dud as well, with the Alliance of Health Workers describing it as “deceptive,” since health personnel have to choose between the hazard pay already provided by the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers and the COVID-19 hazard pay, whichever is higher. Further, the newly instituted hazard pay will be charged to the hospital’s share of the approved budget for 2020, and thus could be lowered should the facility have insufficient allotments to cover the P500 per day hazard pay promised by the health department.
The story of one health worker denied a swab test and personal protective equipment is illustrative. In a Facebook post, a netizen (Joie Cruz) described how her mother, before she passed on, had asked her to follow up on her expected hazard pay of some P30,000. Instead, she received only about P7,000. “In the end, it appears my mom was only given a freaking P64.18 ($1.31) per day (as) COVID hazard pay for 41 days,” Cruz wrote. “This issue is not about monetary value. This issue is about how governments lie, and how we take for granted and exploit our frontliners in the face of this pandemic.”
The plight of the Makati nurse adds yet another layer to the work hazards being faced by frontline health workers. Aside from direct and repeated exposure to the virus, they suffer stigma as possible carriers of COVID-19.
Recall how, in March this year, a hospital worker on his way home in Sultan Kudarat was splashed with bleach. On April 2, an ambulance driver in Candelaria, Quezon was “violently attacked” and shot in the hand after being suspected of transporting COVID-19 patients. Several other health workers were evicted from their rented homes or shooed away from laundry shops and public transport. Such reports prompted the Department of the Interior and Local Government to urge LGUs in April to pass and enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment ordinances to protect frontline workers “who are putting their lives on the line” amid the pandemic. Several cities, among them Makati and Pasay, have passed anti-discrimination ordinances.
And yet incidents like the eviction of the Makati nurse persist. Clearly, a more extensive information campaign is needed to remind the public of the effects of discrimination and how it can worsen the pandemic. After all, discrimination and stigma could only drive COVID-19 patients who fear the same treatment to conceal their true health status, thus spreading the virus further.
LGUs, too, can align policies and ordinances to simplify and make consistent their protocols in dealing with infected health personnel and address these guidelines to employers, rental homeowners, and barangay officials. A list of quarantine facilities in every city or municipality as well as important contact information—for available transport services, for one—should be posted in barangay offices and health centers. Needless to say, local officials should be trained to handle positive cases safely, efficiently, and humanely.
With 5,153 health workers infected and 39 dead from the virus as of Aug. 3, according to the health department, discrimination and stigma should be the least among the many worries troubling our frontline health workers.
The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .
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