Andrea Lim | Reporter
The Philippines faces another pandemic threat – the Ebola virus, and the challenge is brought about by the Department of Health’s small budget and the few number of isolation rooms prepared in case it enters the country.
“The number of isolation rooms that were prepared to handle cases of Ebola virus in the Philippines might not be adequate [in case it enters the Philippines],” said Undersecretary Janette Garin.
“Being ready for the Ebola virus is such a strong word – although we have experts who can deal with the Ebola problem, including facilities in different parts of the country where we can bring patients afflicted by Ebola virus,” admitted DOH program manager Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy.
Lee Suy said that the DOH allocated P50 million for the disease program. The allocation is small, but Congress said that they have agreed to increase the budget ahead of the possible entry of the Ebola virus in the Philippines.
According to Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases head Ludovico Jurao, travel bans have been issued due to the very real threat of the Ebola virus.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has restricted travel to affected West African countries.
Meanwhile, Akbayan Partylist Walden Bello says that preparedness is being monitored.
“We have to be alarmist in responding to this health problem because we have OFWs in West Africa where the virus has claimed lives.”
On a more positive note, Health Secretary Enrique Ona says that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine as well as other government hospitals nationwide are equipped to undertake laboratory tests.
The DOH has required all local and foreign travelers entering the country to fill up a health and itinerary checklist, Ona said, adding that all air and seaports have been equipped with thermal scanners to detect the temperature of arriving passengers.
The Department of Labor and Employment likewise called on OFWs in West Africa to return to the Philippines to avoid being affected by the outbreak of the Ebola virus.
Local government units are also being mobilized as the first line of defense in preventing the entry and spread of Ebola in the Philippines.
“What we wanted is to make sure that Ebola doesn’t make it to the Philippines. Globally, the problem is there. We are at a stage of preventing the entry, which is a tough task. It may not be feasible but we’re working to contain it,” Lee Suy said.
While the Bureau of Immigration can intercept people showing signs and symptoms of Ebola like fever through thermal scanners at airports, the DOH cannot hold or isolate them unless they agree to cooperate.
Lee Suy said that local governments should dedicate health personnel to handle suspected Ebola cases, adding that communities can also help by reporting neighbors coming home from Ebola-affected countries.
According to Lee Suy, bats are also being monitored as carriers of the virus.
The Philippines remains vulnerable because of the impact of free international travel and the presence of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the three West Africa countries where the outbreak has already claimed 1,000 lives.