UNLESS acting Health Secretary Jeanette Garin is 100 percent free of the Ebola virus, prudence dictates that she wear a protective suit to prevent the disease from contaminating members of the Senate when she attends deliberations on the proposed budget for her department.
Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd made the suggestion in jest on Wednesday but he said it reflects growing concern about Ebola spreading to the country.
Last Sunday, Garin, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., AFP spokesperson Harold Cabunoc and DOH spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy went to Caballo Island where 133 Filipino peacekeepers from Ebola-stricken Liberia have been quarantined since November 12.
The officials were not wearing protective suits as they toured quarantine facilities and spoke to the soldiers from a safe distance.
At Wednesday’s Senate session, a smiling Sotto asked Sen. Francis Escudero, who heads the Finance committee, “Are you going to make sure that she [Garin] is attending [the budget hearing]after coming from Caballo Island?”
“She can always wear protective gear,” Escudero replied, picking up the joke.
But in an interview during a break in the session, Sotto told reporters he was trying to emphasize how serious the consequences of Garin’s visit were and the danger it could pose to the public.
Garin “has been insisting that she wants to allay the fears of the troops about Ebola. Now how do you allay the fears of the people that we will encounter outside and inside the Senate?” he said.
Sotto also questioned the claims of Garin, a doctor, that there is nothing wrong with visiting the quarantined soldiers without protective clothing.
“If she is that certain that there is no danger anymore, why do we have to prevent their relatives from visiting the troops?” he asked.
In a separate interview, Escudero said he also disagreed with what Garin did.
“I’m saying it in jest to emphasize the point that at that stage she should have taken extra precautions, and should not have been nonchalant about going there visiting,” he explained.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said he can only hope that no member of the peacekeeping force in Caballo is infected with the Ebola virus.
“We can just pray at this time, because there is no cure yet for the disease and here in the Philippines we don’t know how we will be dealing with it in the event that somebody here is a carrier of the virus,” Ejercito added.
The senators’ concerns were echoed by some Catholic bishops.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, who considered the visit of government officials to Caballo as an “irresponsible act,” called for the officials to be quarantined to ensure that they were not infected by that “unprotected visit.”
Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco said the officials should have been informed of risks from possible contamination.
Dr. Anthony Leachon of the Philippine College of Physicians said families of the peacekeepers might ask why are they not allowed to visit their relatives on the island.
The Ebola epidemic, which first broke out in West Africa, has killed almost 5,000 people out of 13,000 infected by the disease, according to the World Health Organization.