Group says health workers feeling brunt of COVID-19 virus surge, 'losing hope'

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 20 2021 09:49 AM | Updated as of Mar 20 2021 05:53 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) on Saturday said the situation of health care workers now has gotten much worse than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as they faced a fresh infection surge that has exceeded single-day case reports from last year's peak.

“It’s much worse. Nakakawala nang pag-asa, wala nang gana. Marami nang nag-abroad, hindi naman natin sila masisisi kasi even throughout the year marami kaming calls pero parang wala namang natugunan 'yung government and ito na naman, mas mataas pa 'yung bilang kaysa sa mga nauna,” said nurse Jaymee de Guzman, FNU's national treasurer.

(It’s much worse. We’re losing hope. Many have left for work abroad and we can’t blame them because throughout the year we’ve made several calls to the government but none of them were addressed, and here we are again, the numbers are way higher than last year.)

The Philippines on Friday had 7,103 new COVID-19 cases, the highest recorded daily tally since the pandemic began a year ago. This raised the country’s total number of infections to 648,066.

“Ramdam namin ang numbers na 'yan. We feel it in the hospital kaso talagang punong-puno na kami, pati mga empleyado nag-positive.

Ironic pa, nung nabakunahan saka pa dumami 'yung positive patients,” De Guzman said.

(We feel those numbers. We feel it in the hospital but we’re full and even employees have tested positive. What’s ironic is that just when the vaccination program started, that’s also the time when the number of positive patients increased.)

De Guzman said they are experiencing again a shortage in personal protective equipment like face shields, and also confronting understaffing issues as many have decided to leave for work abroad and others have tested positive for the virus. 

They have also yet to receive benefits promised to them by the government.

“Mas harder sa amin, so walang motivation talaga nakaka-demoralize. Kahit with a heavy heart at pagod na katawan namin, we continue to serve,” she added.

(It’s much harder on us, there’s no motivation and we're really demoralized. But even with a heavy heart and we're very tired, we continue to serve.)

The surge came as the country rolled out its vaccination program, which prioritizes medical frontliners.

To date, nearly 241,000 out of the 1.7 million health workers have been vaccinated. The country aims to inoculate 70 million or two-thirds of its population by yearend to achieve herd immunity. 

The OCTA Research Group earlier recommended a stricter general community quarantine to address the COVID-19 surge. FNU, meanwhile, said it was not calling for a "timeout"– an appeal for stricter quarantine to prevent further infections and give health workers a breather— despite the virus surge. 

At the height of virus cases in August last year, medical workers made such call as the country's health system struggled to respond to the surge. 

“We cannot call for a timeout right now lalo na nakikita naming maraming pasyente, kawawa naman. It’s not time for a timeout. Ang kailangan lang namin support ng government, paigtingin 'yung mga curfews, dagdagan 'yung mga testing, at 'yung contact tracing palawigin,” said De Guzman.        

(We cannot call for a timeout right now when there are many patients. It’s not time for a timeout. What we need is government’s support, strengthen curfew hours, increase testing and contact tracing.)

She added that they are not demanding more benefits than what the government is giving. 

“They question our patriotism dahil naga-abroad and yet we are here and serving. Sana naman, this time, can we question their humanity towards the health workers na maging humane sila sa pagtrato at kung may ibibigay silang benefits, talagang ibigay nila ng tunay kasi wala kaming nararamdaman masyado,” she said.

(They question our patriotism because many went abroad and yet we are here and serving. This time, can we question their humanity towards the health workers, that they treat us humanely, and also, if they have benefits to give, they should really give it to us because we don’t feel it.) 

In a statement, the FNU also mourned the death of two of their colleagues at the Philippine Heart Center and at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, who reportedly succumbed to COVID-19. 

They said the two cases manifest the weakness of the country's COVID response, and that this has contributed to the untimely death of health workers.

“We are extremely alarmed at the increasing number of nurses, doctors and other health workers especially those in the frontline, being infected by COVID-19, with 5,355 nurses comprising 36 percent of the 14,963 infected cases of health workers,” they said.

They added that with health care facilities at 60-80 percent capacity, nurses are exhausted and demoralized with continuous work.

They urged the government to heed their call for adequate and a scientific COVID-19 response approach.

“After more than one year, we need a serious evaluation of the COVID-19 response to ensure a scientific, more adequate and caring national strategy not only for our health workers but most especially for our people.” 

They stressed that that core of infection control— early detection, isolation and timely treatment— should be on a nationwide scale. They also called for free mass testing for health workers, guaranteed PPEs, and free medical assistance.

In a separate statement, the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) urged the government to "pay attention to the health workers' deteriorating condition" as the country continues to see a surge of infections. 

The group cited recent deaths of several medical frontliners, and criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for describing the health emergency as a "small thing."

AHW National President Robert Mendoza said the coronavirus has brought "extreme hardship and sacrifice" from the country's health workers battling the disease. 

"Mr. President, COVID-19 is not a small thing," said Mendoza. 

"[Health workers] condemn the growing number of COVID-19 deaths... due to the DOH and government’s failure, inefficiency, incompetence and negligence and no clear plan in handling the pandemic and health crisis," the group's president was quoted as saying.