DOH: Over 3,000 doctors, nurses directly affected by COVID-19

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 28 2020 02:51 PM | Updated as of Apr 28 2020 02:52 PM

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday said more than 3,000 Filipino doctors and nurses have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including those who had to be quarantined for exposure and those who contracted the disease.

During a virtual briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters that a total of 1,069 doctors and 2,357 nurses were affected by COVID-19, “whether quarantined or (tested) positive.”

Vergeire said this in response to a question on whether the health sector’s workforce has been greatly affected by the spread of the virus.

The figure includes a total of 1,245 health workers who tested positive for COVID-19. This includes 471 nurses and 464 doctors.

But Vergeire said the 1,069 doctors who are quarantined or have COVID-19 are a small percentage of the 70,000 doctors registered with the Philippine Medical Association.

“That’s just about 2 percent of the total population of physicians in the country,” she said. “Pero hindi naman natin sinasabi na tayo’y makakampante na.”

(But we’re not saying we’re already complacent.)

Meanwhile, she said the 2,357 nurses who are quarantined or are confirmed to have COVID-19 are only 0.4 percent of the total number of nurses in the Philippines.

Vergeire said the DOH is already addressing how to lower the coronavirus risk for health care workers.

Among the measures being implemented is the emergency hiring of health workers.

“Second, 'yung ating pagbabago ng shifting of our health care professionals,” she said.

(Second is the change in the shifting of our health care professionals.)

Vergeire explained that Chinese medical experts who visited the country recently suggested shorter shifts to allow health workers to rest, strengthen their immune system and reduce their exposure to the virus.

The health official said the DOH is also preparing more health workers to take over the job left by those who will need to undergo quarantine.

While the 1,245 health workers who tested positive for COVID-19 is only a small percentage of the workforce, the World Health Organization already expressed concern that more Filipino health workers are getting sick. 

The latest tally of health workers account for 16 percent of the country’s 7,777 confirmed COVID-19 cases. This is higher than the 2 to 3 percent regional average.

Vergeire admitted that many health workers were affected at the start of the pandemic, especially since there was not enough information about the virus. 

She said among the problems initially faced was the shortage in personal protective equipment. 

“We are all adjusting, she said in Filipino.

She also pointed out that many health workers still go home to their families and that it’s possible that they are infected at their communities and not at the hospital.

She cited as an example the case of an encoder at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine who contracted the virus. She said the RITM did not see any lapses in their laboratory procedure and infection control and that the encoder might have been infected at the community level.

Because health workers are now prioritized for COVID-19 testing, Vergeire said the numbers are expected to rise.

“We are trying to address it and we will provide support,” she said.