Four Doctors Die, Some Hospitals May Temporarily Close As COVID-19 Cases Rise To 462
The Philippine Medical Association is hoping that the deaths of the four doctors will be enough reason for all frontliners to be given adequate supplies of personal protective equipment as they perform their duties.
The medical community is mourning the death of four doctors last week following exposure to patients infected with coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.
As this developed, some private hospitals announced they might need to temporarily stop operations due to lack of personal protective equipment while the Department of Health reported on Monday, March 23 82 new COVID-19 cases or a total 462.
It was the highest number of confirmed cases documented by the DOH in a day. On Sunday, March 22, the DOH said there might be a "shocking" surge in the number of COVID-19 cases nationwide as more laboratories are now capable of conducting tests.
On Monday, Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Jose Santiago Jr. lamented about the “worrying” situation of doctors and other frontline health workers who are battling with COVID-19.
“We expressed our deep condolences to the bereaved family or our doctors…We are sad and frustrated. I hope our doctors will not be discouraged by what is happening and they continue to serve as frontliners in combatting COVID-19,” Santiago told The Philippine STAR.
The four doctors were identified as Israel Bactol, a cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center; Greg Macasaet, an anesthesiologist from Manila Doctors Hospital; Rose Pulido, a medical oncologist at the San Juan De Dios Hospital; and a doctor from Pangasinan.
Macasaet’s doctor-wife Evelyn also got infected and is undergoing treatment at the Manila Doctors Hospital. There are nine other infected doctors who are now in various hospitals fighting for their lives.
There are also many other physicians who are being investigated for developing symptoms, including Edsel Maurice Salvana, director of Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at University of the Philippines-Manila’s National Institutes of Health, which is now a partner of the DOH in doing testing for COVID-19.
Salvana, who tested negative for the virus, handled patients infected with COVID-19, two of whom already died. He is now undergoing quarantine.
PPE and full disclosure
Santiago said he is hopeful that the deaths of the four doctors will be enough reason for all frontliners to be given adequate supplies of PPE as they perform their duties.
“It is like going to war without a weapon if we don’t have PPE. We won’t last if that is the situation,” stressed Santiago, who projected that there will be a manpower crisis in healthcare facilities in two to three months if frontline workers will continue working without adequate rest and PPE.
Santiago also appealed to the public to make full disclosure of their health conditions and if they have history of travel to a country with COVID-19 cases and exposure to an infected individuals because this information are very important for the doctors and other health workers.
“They have to disclose everything so that the doctors can take the necessary precaution and, at the same time, give them proper management,” he added.
Bactol, for instance, was exposed to a patient who kept the information that he had history of travel to a country with COVID-19 cases.
Santiago disclosed the PMA had already sent a letter to DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III last week to ensure enough supply of PPE for frontline workers.
“We are also requesting that doctors and other health workers be tested for COVID-19. We have to know their real conditions since they have been dealing with cases without adequate protection,” he noted.
For her part, former PMA president Minerva Calimag bewailed that doctors and health workers are getting ill - and die - from exposure to COVID-19 patients.
“I post this with tears welling up my eyes...all the frontliners in healthcare are the most vulnerable! Another physician...a fellow anesthesiologist is down,” she posted in Facebook page.
She pointed out that in their daily activities, they “open the patients’ mouth and look down deep into their glottis (opening between the vocal folds) and make sure that the endotracheal tube that (they) put is in place… all in the name of patient safety.”
“But this COVID infection stares back at us, an enemy waiting to strike anytime while we perform the most routine of all our tasks in the ER (emergency room), in the ward, in the ICU (intensive care unit), in the operating room… Soldiers in the battlefield know the enemy...while physicians didn’t even know that they are at war until it is too late,” she wrote.
Calimag also said that frontline workers expect more cases as people in the communities have yet to be tested.
Health advocate and doctor Anthony Leachon had backed Santiago in his call for adequate supply of PPE for health workers. He cautioned that “healthcare collapse will lead to economic collapse.”
“Protect health workers who provide care for the sick is a must during this COVID-19 outbreaks,” he said.
Leachon added the death of doctors and other health workers is a “sign the magnitude of the problem” whose “root cause is lack of preparation to protect the healthcare workers.”
Philippine College of Physicians president Gina Nazareth had also supported proposals to liberalize the importation of equipment related to COVID-19.
“We hope that the government considers this policy because this will substantially speed up the process of equipping our health workers with the necessary protection from COVID-19 and prevent an uncontrollable transmission of the virus,” Nazareth maintained.
82 new cases
The DOH reported that 82 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed and that there were also eight more deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 33. Only one patient recovered, raising the figure to 18.
According to DOH Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire, they expected the figures to increase as the testing capability for COVID-19 had already been scaled up due to the arrival of donated testing kits from abroad and those developed by Filipino scientists.
Aside from this, sub-national testing laboratories have already been identified to augment the testing capacity of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health.
“Maybe we are having an artificial rise because the backlogs in our laboratory capacity has been reduced. If we reach a stable laboratory capacity, we will see the real trend of cases in the country,” she claimed.
As patients with COVID-19 continues to increase, the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPi) on Monday expressed concern that some of its members might have to stop operations temporarily.
PHAPi president Rustico Jimenez bared that many private hospitals are now running out of PPE to distribute among their personnel.
Aside from this, he said the deliveries of the disinfectant that they use to clean the hospital facilities get delayed due to the lockdown being implemented in some parts of the country.
“They said that cargoes or deliveries for health care facilities are exempted from lockdown. But our suppliers reported to us that they also get delayed at the checkpoints because so many papers are being required of them,” Jimenez added in an interview.
Jimenez explained that the manpower of hospitals is getting depleted because many of frontline workers are undergoing quarantine after manifesting symptoms due to exposure to infected patients.
He cited his own hospital, the Medical Center Paranaque, wherein 60 frontline workers are currently in isolation.
“Because of the global demands for PPE, it is hard for hospitals to procure them. We requested the Department of Health to help us to ensure that our staff are protected,” he said.
He confessed that many hospital operators are mulling to temporarily stop operations if they cannot sufficiently equip their personnel with PPE because if not,
the safety of their personnel and patients will be compromised. – With Mayen Jaymalin