Will OFWs bring Ebola as pasalubong?

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DALLAS, TEXAS: Work abroad at your own risk.

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That is the clear message of the Philippine government to Overseas Filipino Workers.

Two days ago, Philippine President B. S. Aquino said that “Filipinos in Ebola-hit countries might have to be brought home.”

As to how such repatriation can and shall be done is unclear.

Given the fact that even the United States had no plan in place when Ebola struck adds to the uncertainty that 9,469 Filipinos in West African countries endure by the Philippine government’s position. Even President Obama had to cancel his itinerary to deal with Ebola in Texas, specifically in Dallas where at the time of writing, two nurses have been diagnosed as having Ebola.

There are approximately 150,000 Filipinos in Texas and a significant number of healthcare workers including nurses who are in the front line of the battle against this deadly virus.

Greg P, a practical nurse visiting from California, said it is clear that protocols were not in place. “ It is also so easy to forget about little things that could lead to infection or contagion. For example, he says, not knowing or not caring which part of your medical outfit you have to take off first would be crucial.

Marsha A, an Occupational Therapist also from California agrees. “Sometimes, when you forget something in a patient’s room, you go back and get it even after having taken off protective gear. Hindi naman siguro ako matatamaan is the usual attitude.”

Rachel M, a physical therapist who works in Dallas and knows Filipino healthcare workers in the Presbyterian Health Center (where Patient Zero Duncan was confined and two nurses were subsequently found to have contracted the Ebola virus), said “now the Dallas healthcare community is concerned. Not just the Filipinos.”

The Filipino healthcare workers requested that their last names not be disclosed as their respective employers might take offense.

President Obama’s speech at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta on September 16, 2014 is now haunting the US President. In that speech, Obama assured the American public that “in the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home.”

Today, Pam Cipriano, president of the American Nurses Association, noted that the unclear guidelines from the CDC contributed to the infection of at least two nurses in Dallas, both of which had direct contact with the patient who died after contracting the Ebola virus. Clearly the CDC’s “new measures” reveal a state of unpreparedness.

Recognizing a political fallout from his September statement assuring Americans not to worry, President Obama today went out on a limb again through a nationwide press coverage by stating that “a person without symptoms of the Ebola-virus is not contagious.”

The nationwide address came amidst the jitters that sent down the stock market by 400 points. Forbes and CNN reported that due to the “combination of economic uncertainty and Ebola panic, the Dow has tanked more than 400 points in midday trading, falling below the 16,000 mark and hitting its lowest level in nearly three years. The S&P and Nasdaq aren’t faring much better — both are down more than 2% — while the volatility index has surged to its highest levels since the Eurozone crisis.”

Obama conveyed what the US government currently knows: “It is not like the flu. It is not airborne. The only way the person can contract Ebola is to have direct contact with somebody who is exhibiting symptoms of having Ebola.”

Bringing home potential Ebola virus carriers
Promising to bring home thousands of Filipinos from West Africa without a clear plan on how to ensure that each OFW is not an Ebola-virus carrier may sound courageous.

But without an effective infection control in place, repatriating OFWs—who, though they may not exhibit symptoms and thereby pass any cursory medical inspection —could be disastrous.

According to the World Health Organization, “the incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms. First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.”

This means each OFW to be repatriated must not only be flown at government expense but also be provided adequate medical attention to ensure that they shall not endanger their families.

Simply saying that the Philippines will “cooperate with the rest of the world to. . .keep our countrymen safe” is not enough.

For starters, the Aquino government must provide evidence that it has the protocols, the equipment and trained personnel to do the job. Just what procedures will the Department of Health take before a “medical clearance” is issued? Even in the US, there is limited supply of the experimental vaccine against the Ebola virus. I doubt if the DOH has.

What Secretary Ona said is that each OFW shall be given 21 days to wait out the incubation period.

Second, banning workers from being deployed to Western countries affected by the Ebola virus should come with the political teeth to enforce such a ban.

Filipinos have braved wars, conflicts and even disease outbreaks, biting the bullet by simply moving on to the next country, staying across the border to wait until the crisis abates, because OFWs would rather take the chance of death abroad – where they have better opportunities for employment – than have a life of misery at home.

President Aquino might have dealt with Coronavirus and former Chief Justice Corona as well but getting OFWs home without ensuring they are not putting the lives of their families at risk and the country as well – will not be a crowning glory when he steps down in 2016.

Unless he really plans to get a second term, despite constitutional prohibition.

So what’s the Philippine government’s plan?

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said a medical clearance would indicate whether a Filipino had been exposed to a person infected with or who died from Ebola. Ona was with President Aquino during his speech at the 65th Session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

Apparently, each OFW would have to self-medicate, or at least conduct his/her own assessment. An OFW would have to wait for 21 days from the date of his return flight to the Philippines before a medical clearance is issued.

Ona was honest enough to say that they only have a proposal. Not a plan.

Same with the deployment of OFWs. The DOH head admits the government has not yet decided whether to send health workers to Ebola-hit countries.

The Department of Labor also puts the burden of choice to OFWs. Secretary Baldoz was reported to have said that “Filipino nurses and other health workers must not risk accepting jobs in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.”

In short, the Philippine government is saying “work abroad at your own risk.” But the remittances must be sent safely back home.

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4 Comments

  1. Silverio Cabellon, Jr., M.D. on

    Airlines from Ebola stricken countries should no allow travel of any person unless that person has cooperated in being quarantiend for 21 days at the place of embarcation. To allow an traveller from an Ebola striken country to board an airplane is not acceptable because the traveller could develop symptoms on board the airplane.
    Co-travellers would then have the possibility of getting infected and spread the disease exponentially.

  2. Ebola once reach Philippine shores this will be a curse to this Government, we are a third world country where we don’t have equipment or laboratory or quarantine room that can dealt with these outbreak this will wipe out population at a fast paced magnitude. Remember in the hit African nation nothing was yet successfully contain the virus only remission or hibernation but daily death recorded but not shown to the media to avoid sowing of terror of this virus. So Better to be careful than sorry later.

  3. this is the main problem with our economy, we put more emphasis on exporting our OFWs but this is also our Achilles heels, because when a disaster of this magnitude happens or war or piracy, we have the big responsibility to bring our OFWs back home and now with Ebola, not only transporting them back but quarantining them is a huge undertaking with a 3rd world country like ours with substandard infrastructures. Had we and our wealthy politicians build the country in manufacturing like China did other than OFWs then we would more be safer at home.

  4. That us what the Philippines gets when our economy was relying on the OFW remittances. Ebola, a Trojan horse!