Due to lack of protective equipment, health workers resort to grocery bags, helmets for protection

Maan Macapagal, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 02 2020 07:41 PM | Updated as of Apr 02 2020 09:07 PM

MANILA - Calls for a steady supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers abound on social media as medical practitioners grapple to save patients infected with COVID-19.

According to doctors, protective gear are crucial to keep them safe and healthy while in the frontlines of the battle against the contagious disease.

PPEs are composed of a head cover, goggles or face shield, surgical mask or N95 respirator, protective gown or coverall, gloves and shoe covers.

Some have gone to wear improvised PPEs to remain protected.

At the Las Piñas Doctors Hospital, some doctors are using raincoats and trash bags as makeshift PPEs.

Doctors at the Western Visayas State University Iloilo's Department of Internal Medicine are using table cloth.

At the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), doctors use laundry gloves as makeshift foot covers. Nurses, meanwhile, use motorcycle helmets and empty water gallon containers as face shields.

According to NCMH, they have 5 in-patients and 11 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. One patient died on Tuesday.

NCMH Chief Administrative Officer Clarita Avila said they are short of PPEs especially now that they have 3,000 patients and 2,000 employees.

“Although the hospital has purchased PPEs, it hasn’t been delivered yet… kulang na kulang talaga (there is a shortage). Everybody is forced to report to work, and we have to use the PPEs and PPEs are disposables," Avila said.

She said that due to the supply problem, staffers have been making improvised protective gear.

According to nephrologist Dr. Brian Cabral, improvised PPEs are not medical grade but health workers have no choice but to use them.

“Para sa isang doctor, ilang PPE kaya ang kailangan niyang daanan sa isang araw? Hindi malabong estima ng 3 to 4 na buong set, 'yung iba d'yan na talagang nakasalang ng buong araw,"

(For one doctor, how many PPEs are needed for one day? It could be as many as three to four sets because others are on duty the whole day.)

Others who might be going to multiple hospitals or are looking after many patients could need 6 to 7 sets, he said.

Besides doctors and nurses, hospital staff like guards and clerks need PPEs too, Cabral said.

“Kung iisipin niyo kasi pati mga security guards, military, clerk, nagtatrabaho sa cafeteria, lahat po nun nilalakad nila 'yung buong ospital. Sa ngayon napipilitan tayong mamili kung sino 'yung mas importante, pero ang katunayan dun is mayroon bang buhay na mas importante kaysa sa iba,” Cabral said.

(If you think about it, security guards, military [officers], clerks, those who work in the cafeteria, they all walk through the hospital too. Now we are forced to choose who are more important (and therefore be given PPEs), but the truth is, is there one life more important than another?)

Cabral initiated an online petition asking for government to locally manufacture PPEs and not rely on purchases from other countries. It has so far garnered 60,000 supporters.

“By supporting local manufacturers, textile manufacturers, plastic manufacturers, distributors and all the logistical supports. Sana itutok ng gobyerno at padaliin na sa kanila para gumawa na ng mga ganung bagay (We hope government makes it easy for them to make these),” Cabral said.

He said "100 percent" of doctors and health workers are scared of also contracting the disease and bringing it home to their families.

“So, lahat kami takot, kaya the very least na we can do is bigyan natin sila ng protection, pangalagaan natin sila, para siguraduhin to the best of our ability na nagawa ang lahat ng puwedeng gawin para protektahan sila,” he added.

(We are all scared, so the very least we can do is give them protection, take care of them, make sure to the best of our ability that we have done everything we could to protect them.)

Several doctors have already died after contracting COVID-19 in the course of treating patients.

Protect the Frontline

Meanwhile, a pulmonologist looking after COVID-19 patients in Quezon City and Marikina said he is thankful for PPEs as they keep him safe when making his hospital rounds.

“Araw-araw po akong nagra-rounds sa aking mga pasyenteng COVID positive. Wala naman po akong nararamdaman. Ibig sabihin ‘non ang personal protective equipment is working. Kung naka-proper PPE ka po talaga, mabisa talaga. Kaya 'yon ang aking ipinagdarasal na sana mag-donate ng maraming PPE, importante sa mga working inside the hospital 'yung complete PPE,” he said.

(I make rounds daily of patients who are COVID positive. I don't feel anything ailing me. That means the personal protective equipment is working. If you are in proper PPE, it's really effective. I pray that more would donate PPEs, it's important for those working inside the hospital to have complete PPE.)

A group of doctors headed by Dr. Ayz Ligot has distributed PPEs to fellow frontliners in hospitals donated through Protect the Frontline, an initiative to encourage donations of protective equipment for health workers.

“'Yung mga kasama kong doctor naisip namin paano matutulungan 'yung kapwa namin doctor at kapwa namin frontliners ngayon na sumasabak sa COVID and one way na naisip namin to launch a campaign called Protect the Frontline. Importante kasi 'yung mga frontliners natin kumpleto sila sa gamit,” Ligot shared.

(I and my fellow doctors thought of a way to help other doctors and frontliners now that we are battling COVID and one way we thought of is to launch the campaign called Protect the Frontline. It's important that frontliners have complete protective gear.)

The website contains information about which hospital needs supplies and food.

The public may also leave online messages to frontliners to show appreciation and support.

On Wednesday, her group was able to bring face masks, alcohol, and face shields to 4 hospitals in Quezon City, Pasig and San Juan.

“Dahil sa dami ng pasyente na kailangan nilang makita, mabilis na nauubos 'yung gamit sa emergency rooms or triage areas so siyempre ikaw na frontliner mayroon ka ring pangamba na hindi lang para sa sarili mo kundi para sa pamilya kasi kung ikaw mismo magkasakit,” Ligot said.

(Because of the number of patients medical workers have to see, protective gear in emergency rooms and triage areas run out quickly, so for the frontliner, there's a concern not just for yourself but also for your family, that you yourself might also get sick.)