File photo shows members of Bayan Bayanihan preparing relief items to be distributed to poor communities amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Some say that the private sector has given more assistance than the government has since the start of the health crisis last year.
By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — A coalition of medical groups gave the Duterte administration a failing grade as they assessed its year-long response to the Covid-19 pandemic even as it recorded successfully vaccinating only a fraction of the target number of front line workers across the country.
“It’s an F, a 5.00, with no remedial or any means to redeem itself,” Angel Sison, who represents the Philippine Medical Students’ Association (PMSA), which forms part of the Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH), said in an online news conference.
Agreeing with Sison’s failing grade to the government, CPRH co-convenor Dr. Joshua San Pedro criticized Malacañang’s own assessment of having done an “excellent” job in responding to the global pandemic.
San Pedro cited that the government failed ignobly to “flatten the curve” and reduce to less than a thousand the average number of new cases per two weeks, since the government declared a public health emergency a year ago.
“It’s as if 2020 had not ended yet,” San Pedro pointed out even as he noted that the Philippines is still in the first wave of the pandemic and is currently seeing only a ‘surge’ in Covid-19 infections and transmissions.
He also pointed out the country’s positivity rate or the percentage of Covid-19 testing that yields positive, as having reached 12 percent, surpassing the 10 percent in August last year when infections were at their peak.
CPRH likewise said that government authorities failed to strengthen contact tracing as well as mass testing—the essential measures to counter the spread of the virus.
San Pedro said 35 provinces in the country still have no testing hub while 99 out of 230 accredited testing laboratories are all concentrated in Metro Manila.
“(Government) failed to observe its own contact-tracing ratio of 1 infected person: 30-37 contacts, as proposed by Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong,” he cited while describing the government’s 1:7 contact ratio so far as “miniscule” in contrast to contract-tracing efforts in South Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan.
But what San Pedro said was even more glaring is the fact that there was no transparent audit of government funds from the legislated Bayanihan Acts 1 and 2 relief programs while most people spent out of their own pockets for testing and treatment.
“How could we expect the health care workers to carry the burden of the pandemic when the (health) budget was slashed just before the pandemic,” he said.
The groups likewise alleged that government officials themselves violated quarantine protocols, whereas the government applied a “punitive” response to ordinary people who violated the protocols.
In another issue, Karen Faurillo of the All UP Workers Union in Manila and the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) warned that most health workers have become “exhausted” in fighting the virus because of labor issues, such as hospitals being understaffed as well as the lack of tenure, delayed benefits and insufficient protective gear and supplies for medical staff.
Alliance of Health Workers president Robert Mendoza noted that personal protective equipment also started to run out again while one hospital charges front-liners for a suit.
Meanwhile, based on data from the Department of Health (DoH) itself, fewer than 200,000 health workers have been vaccinated against Covid-19 though nearly all of the 1.125 million doses of donated vaccines that arrived nearly two weeks ago have been distributed.
Since the rollout of the CoronaVac vaccine from China on March 1 and the AstraZeneca shot from the global vaccine pool COVAX on March 6, 193,492 health workers have been given their first dose as of Saturday, according to the DoH.
DoH Disease Prevention and Control Bureau director Beverly Ho revealed that 90 percent of the vaccines had already been distributed to vaccination sites across the country and hospitals have also received the vaccines for the second dose.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed this, saying that 193,492 health workers have been inoculated with 34 percent of the 1.125 million doses of the vaccine having been used or reserved for the second dose.
In Metro Manila, he said, 70 percent of the allocated vaccines for the first dose have been given.
“(Metro Manila) has performed quite well. They are now 70 percent for the first dose inoculation,” Duque said in a media forum with the World Health Organization representative and the European Union ambassador. (AI/MTVN)