Alarmed by healthworkers' deaths, doctor couple produces coveralls for fellow frontliners

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2020 08:16 AM

Doctors Neil and Lillian Rodrigo are racing to manufacture personal protective equipment, particularly coveralls, for their colleagues in government hospitals. Neil and Lillian Rodrigo

MANILA - Alarmed by the rising number of doctors dying of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 in the Philippines, a doctor-couple decided to do something about it by manufacturing personal protective equipment, particularly coveralls, for their colleagues in government hospitals in Rizal.

Doctors Neil and Lillian Rodrigo from Taytay, Rizal said fellow health workers are at risk if they do not have the proper gear while treating COVID-19 patients.

"Kami 'yung nasa war, pero wala kaming shield," said Lillian, an obstetrician-gynecologist.

(We're the ones fighting the war, but we do not have shields.)

"It really breaks my heart. Kaming mga doctor, 'di kami namamatay agad. May intervention pa muna. Pero itong COVID, can you imagine, biglang namamatay. And ang naunang namamatay sa amin is our mentors, those we look up to."

(We doctors do not die just like that. We would still have interventions. But this COVID, can you imagine, they die suddenly. And the first of them are our mentors, those we look up to.)

As of March 26, the number of doctors who lost their lives to COVID-19 has reached 9, according to the Philippine Medical Association.

"Our community wants to grieve pero 'di namin nagawa (but we cannot do it) because we have things to do."

With the help of friends, Neil and Lillian started out sourcing face shields, but shifted to coveralls after they saw the demand and need for it--especially in the public health sector.

"May mga kasamahan kami nagsusuot na ng trash bag. Sabi ko, teka, bigyan naman natin ng konti ng dignity sarili natin," Neil said.

(We had colleagues who were already wearing trash bags. I said, wait, we should give ourselves a little dignity.)


A sample of the personal protective equipment being produced by the couple doctor. Lillian Rodrigo

Neil, a safety consultant who specializes in occupational medicine, studied other efforts to make localized protective suits and looked around for available fabrics.

He had to find water-repellant materials which were non-woven and could be sewn into a suit that covers even the face.

"Di naman kailangan (It does not need to be) medical grade. You just have to control 'yung transfer ng COVID-19," he said.

After trying out fabrics like Taslan, they have begun manufacturing with Tafetta, which has been the approved material for protective suits by a group of Filipino fashion designers.

Aside from partnering with garment companies in Taytay, dubbed the country's "ready-to-wear capital", the Rodrigos also tapped home-based dressmakers in nearby towns.

Neil said they were hitting a two-fold target with the initiative--with one being the need for PPEs.

"Pati mga mananahi ng Taytay, Angono, at Binangonan, mabibigyan sila ng trabaho in this time of crisis."

(Even sewers in Taytay, Angono, and Binangonan will be able to maintain jobs in this time of crisis.)

On Tuesday, they begin sending the first few hundreds of PPE suits to public hospitals in Rizal, and even to Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center in Marikina City.

While they are starting to accept orders from areas outside Rizal, the group's request for now is for the suits to be picked up in their area.


One of the garment factories where the suits are being produced. Lillian Rodrigo

The group's usual arrangement with partners who donate funds is 50/50: half of the suits made from the donated amount go to the donor's preferred hospital, while the other half to the group's chosen hospitals.

Neil said the money they raised pays for the labor, material, and transportation expenses.

One coverall using the more-expensive Tafetta fabric costs around P600 to make.

At times, the couple shells out their own cash.

This was why they were shocked to find photos of their items being shared on social media to sell suits for double the production price.

They also called on other people making the suits to keep them free for health professionals as they did theirs.

"This is not the time na magsamantala, isipin na business. Kung may capacity to do it sana gawin na lang nila," Lillian said.

(This is not the time to take advantage of others or think of this as a business. If they have the capacity to make the suits, then just do it.)

"We're running out of time."

For donations and partnerships, contact the MDs and Friends Movement through their Facebook group.