UNFPA supports Philippine health workers through PPE donation
20 April 2020
MANILA, Philippines – To augment the ongoing response by the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) to the rapidly escalating COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the Philippines is donating personal protective equipment (PPE) worth more than three million pesos (approximately USD 59,000) to the DOH, in the midst of the “enhanced community quarantine” all across Luzon including Metro Manila. This PPE will be distributed to frontline health workers including those attending to pregnant and lactating women.
As the first cases of COVID-19 local transmission were confirmed, on 8 March 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte declared a State of a Public Health Emergency. As of 18 March, the number of confirmed cases in the country has risen to 202 with 17 deaths. As the numbers of confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 are rapidly increasing in the country and more people are in need of testing and treatment, it adds to pressure on the health sector and the nature of the jobs of the health care workers puts them at an increased risk of catching any communicable diseases, including COVID-19. Dozens of health care workers have already been put under investigation for potential COVID-19 infection. If the number of health care workers who need to take leave of absence increases, it further amplifies the strain on the already stretched health care system.
The PPE that the UNFPA Country Representative in the Philippines, Mr. Iori Kato, handed over to Undersecretary Dr. Myrna Cabotaje and Undersecretary Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire today at the DOH includes coveralls, long-sleeve gowns, face shields, eye goggles, aprons, headcovers, and shoe covers. Also present is Director Mar Wynn Bello during the handover. “It is imperative that we support DOH and all the heroes of this country today – all the people working in the health sector, especially the front liners, risk their health and safety to respond to this emergency. They need to be protected from infection,” underscored UNFPA Philippines Chief of Health, Dr. Joseph Michael Singh.
UNFPA previously donated 1,130 pieces of hand-held thermometers worth more than 3 million Pesos to the DOH on 26 February, for regularly monitoring the temperature and possible symptoms of the almost 500 Filipino passengers and staff who returned from the MV Diamond Princess, in a way that minimizes the exposure of the country’s health workers. In addition, UNFPA also donated 100,000 pieces of surgical masks of almost 3 million Pesos to the DOH on 11 March for the protection of frontline health workers especially those attending to pregnant women at maternity wards.
“To date, there is no scientific evidence about the increased susceptibility of pregnant women to COVID-19. However, pregnancy brings physical changes that might make some pregnant women more susceptible to viral respiratory infections. Pregnant women with respiratory illnesses must be treated with the utmost priority due to increased risk of adverse outcomes,” stated Dr. Natalia Kanem, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNFPA Executive Director, in UNFPA’s global statement on the emergency. As pregnant women require more regular visits to hospitals and clinics, infection control in maternity settings must be prioritized. Infection control starts with ensuring that health workers are adequately protected.
Ms. Aimee Santos, UNFPA Chief of Gender in the Philippines, pointed also to the ‘gendered’ aspects of the pandemic. “The existing gender inequality can be worsened in a crisis like this. Previous cases of epidemics like the Ebola outbreak show evidence of increased exploitation and abuse of women and girls. And all these survivors need to access protection and health services even in the midst of community quarantines.”
“At this most trying time, our strongest weapon as a nation is Vigilance, Preparedness, and Solidarity,” Health Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque III said in an earlier statement. UNFPA Country Representative Mr. Kato responded, “We would like to express our solidarity with all Filipinos as we face the COVID-19 pandemic together. Alongside WHO, all UN agencies including UNFPA stand ready to provide any assistance we could to support the national response to this pandemic.”