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Department of Health

Filipinos rush to buy face masks while calls for ban on Chinese entry to PH mount after first nCoV case

in News/Tabloid PH News

Filipinos panicked after hearing the official news from the Department of Health (DOH) of the first confirmed novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) case in the country, with videos proliferating on social media showing long queues of people buying face masks in drugstores.

Also, calls to temporarily ban people traveling from China reverberated, with some again using this development to criticize the Duterte administration for not immediately imposing the travel ban after news of the spread of 2019-nCoV broke out.

In a statement, Senator Ralph Recto said: “I think it is time to put a temporary ‘do not enter’ sign on our doorstep for visitors from China.” The Senate President Pro Tempore added: “Let us explain to them that we are not permanently closing our doors. This is not a permanent Great Wall. This is only during the duration of the coronavirus crisis.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the travel ban must firmly include both air and sea travel to prevent a local outbreak. “This includes a temporary ban on all cruise ships from docking at any of our ports.”

Senator Bong Go, President Duterte’s former special assistant, supported the call.

Before this, the DOH said there is still no need to prevent the entry of Chinese to the country, as this may strain the Manila-Beijing diplomatic relations. Now, this pronouncement is being used by Duterte bashers to criticize the government.

On Thursday afternoon (January 30), Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced that a 38-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan, China has been confirmed to be positive for 2019-nCoV. She arrived in the Philippines via Hongkong on January 21 and admitted in public on January 25 after experiencing a mild cough. The woman did not show other signs of illnesses.

Duque’s announcement read: ”I assure the public that the DOH is on top of this evolving situation. We were able to detect the first confirmed case because of our strong surveillance system, close coordination with the World Health Organization and other national agencies.”

“We are working closely with the hospital where the patient is admitted and have activated the incident command system of the said hospital for appropriate management specifically on infection control, case management and containment. We are also implementing measures to protect the health staff providing care to these patients.”

The DOH is now in the midst of contact tracing to know where the Chinese woman went in the country and who she can in contact with. It has been reported that she went to Cebu and Dumaguete.

Undersecretary Eric Domingo, the DOH spokesman, said she was brought to a hospital in Manila.

Just an hour after the DOH confirmation of the first 2019-nCoV case here, Filipinos started lining up in drugstores to buy face masks. This was shown in videos posted on Twitter by Raffy Tima and Miranda de Quiros taken in Manila and Quezon City, respectively.

EDITORIAL: DOH should be lauded for immediately treating 2019-nCoV a public health emergency

in News/Tabloid PH News

The pronouncement of the Department of Health (DOH) that the government is already treating the spread of the novel coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV) as a public health emergency even if no domestic case has been confirmed yet as of January 24 is indeed laudable.

This only shows that the DOH is now ready to take proactive measures to make sure the new coronavirus strain that originated from Wuhan will not reach Philippine shores; or if it is already here, it would not infect more Filipinos.

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said it well in an interview with ANC: “We are treating it as a public health emergency. We want to make sure that if it does get here, we are able to contain it, isolate it.”

Declaring a public health emergency allows the DOH and other concerned agencies to tap the necessary resources to make sure proper actions and measures will be in place to prevent the spread of the 2019-nCoV.  In the United States, where there is a confirmed 2019-nCoV case already, a public health emergency declaration releases resources meant to handle an actual or potential public health crisis.

Why is this important? We all know how unscrupulous traders took advantage of the ash fall that reached Metro Manila after the phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano last January 12. Due to the sudden spike in demand for face masks, some establishments reportedly raised the prices of their N95 and surgical masks, prompting the DOH and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to implement a price freeze and conduct operations against erring retailers and suppliers.

With the 2019-nCoV feared to be communicable, face masks would again be in demand. With the declaration of a public health emergency, authorities will be able to guard the public against overpricing and hoarding of N95 and other face masks again.

This is just an example. Of course, there are many other things that the government needs to do to shield Filipinos from this new strain of coronavirus. Some measures would certainly entail more budget, so the DOH and other concerned agencies should not be hindered by bureaucratic red tape in getting needed funds. 

In China, for instance, the Chinese government has started building a new 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan solely for coronavirus patients. The Philippine government, of course, does not need to do this also for now. However, interventions of a smaller magnitude—but would entail additional funding—need to be undertaken also as proactive measures. Ensuring adequate medicines and facilities for 2019-nCoV patients are examples. At the ports of entry, the quarantine personnel, as well as their testing capabilities, should be enhanced. Authorities should also prepare to dedicate experts and resources for the isolation of people suspected as being infected by the deadly virus.

The DOH is still waiting for the result of the confirmatory test on a five-year-old Chinese who arrived in sick in Cebu from Wuhan. Also, a 36-year-old Filipino worker in Wuhan just came homesick and is now in a hospital in Tacloban. 

While there is no confirmation yet that the 2019-nCoV is already here in the Philippines, it is indeed a positive signal that the DOH has declared that it already considers the spread of the new coronavirus strain as a public health emergency. Caution and preparedness are paramount in situations like this. As the saying goes—better safe than sorry.

How the ashfall from Taal Volcano can harm you

in News/Tabloid PH News

The Department of Health (DOH) has advised the public to minimize exposure to the volcanic ash blown to Metro Manila cities after the Taal Volcano eruption on Sunday (January 12).

This is because the ashfall contains harmful substances such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, fluorine and hydrochloric acid, among others.

Among the harmful effects of volcanic ash are: nose and throat irritation, coughing, bronchitis-like illness, discomfort while breathing, eye irritation and skin irritation.

Particularly vulnerable to these harmful substances are people suffering from asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This is why they are advised to remain indoors. 

Interviewed over radio station DZMM, pulmonologist Giancarlo Arandia said the ash particles are so small that can easily enter the openings of the respiratory system.

Those who can’t avid gong outdoors, Arandia said they should use N95 masks or damp towel in covering their nose.

Ophthalmologist Nilo Flor Cruz also told DZMM: “Irritating ‘yung ash na ‘yon dahil medyo acidic ‘yon eh. Kung dati sa panahon ng Pinatubo, pwedeng mangalawang ‘yung mga bubong, paano pa ‘yung mata natin.”

He recommended the use eye of lubricant drops to remove the tiny ashes and also regular washing of the face.

The Philippine office of the World Health Organization gave these recommendations to the public: stay indoors unless absolutely necessary; avoid low-lying areas and areas downwind from the volcano; for children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems, wear masks that block small particles of ash; for the general population, wear a simple mask; wear protective eye gear; make sure food and water you consume are safe.

Amid ASF scare, Visayas provinces urged to just impose conditional ban as region faces shortage of pork supply

in Tabloid PH News

The group of big producers of processed meat urged some provinces in the Visayas to downgrade their total ban on pork products to just a “conditional ban”, as the region would be experiencing supply shortage starting next week.

The Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (PAMPI) said under a conditional ban, only those that do not have the required certificates of safety, health and quality compliance will not be allowed to enter certain areas.

“I agree with conditional bans. Conditional ban means products will not be allowed if they do not carry the necessary certificates,” PAMPI spokesman Rex Agarrado said in an interview with GMA News.

Currently, the provinces of Cebu, Bohol, Davao City, and Negros Occidental have imposed a total ban on the entry, distribution and sale of pork and pork products from Luzon as a way to prevent the spread of the African Swine Fever (ASF) in the region. The Department of Health (DOH) earlier confirmed that pigs in several Luzon farms have been infected with ASF.

Agarrado stressed that if these provinces would retain their hardline stance on the total ban, the Visayas could run out of stocks of pork and pork products as early as next week.

“In the coming week, I would expect shortages to happen. For canned meat products, we possibly would have longer inventories but they certainly will not be longer than the 90-day ban that has been set forth by the imposing LGU’s,” he said in the interview with GMA News.

The ban, he said, has already prompted logistics firms to halt the shipment of frozen and canned pork products to the Visayas. “The supplies in those areas are really limited. I would venture to say that the inventories in those areas are only two weeks to possibly four weeks at the most.”

With this, Agarrado said concerned agencies such as the  Departments of Agriculture, Health, Trade and Industry, and Interior and Local Government should step in to address the problem.

A supply shortage automatically translates to higher prices, to the detriment of consumers.

“Today, our ability to replenish the stocks are being deterred by shipping companies telling us that anyway, the shipments will not be received so they would rather not also receive our shipments coming here from Luzon,” Agarrado said.

Dengvaxia back in Philippine spotlight

in News/Tabloid PH News

Manila, Philippines — Controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia is hugging the headlines in the country anew, with doctors and scientists urging the government to lift the ban on the Sanofi-made vaccine following the doubling of dengue cases in the Philippines this year.

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed dengue has already claimed the lives of 561 people as of July 13. Nationwide, the number of dengue cases rose to more than 130,000, nearly doubling the 67,690 recorded in the same period last year with 367 deaths. Children aged 5 to 9 were the most vulnerable with about 30,000 cases year-to-date. From July 7 to 13 alone, the DOH recorded 8,295 cases already.

Western Visayas, which includes the provinces of Negros Occidental, Capiz, Aklan, Antique, Iloilo and Guimaras, had the most incidence with 18,943 cases and 95 deaths.

With the alarming rise in dengue cases, the Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare (DTPW) said it is high time the government lifted the ban on Dengvaxia. 

“The Philippines has the highest incidence and death rate from dengue in this part of the world. Yet it is the only country in the world that has banned it,” Dr. Minguita Padilla, DTPW co-convener, was quoted in a report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Led by former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, DTPW is composed of physicians, scientists, educators, former secretaries of health, and past and present heads of various professional medical associations and nongovernmental organizations.

“The vaccine need not be included in the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) of the government so that [the] government need not spend for it. But at least make it available to physicians to offer for the millions of patients who can benefit from it,” Padilla said. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) canceled the certificates of product registration (CPRs) of Dengvaxia last February due to Sanofi Pasteur, Inc.’s alleged disregard of the agency’s rules and regulations.

One month later, the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted former Health Secretary Janette Garin and 19 health officials and drug executives for the deaths of children who received Dengvaxia shots.

Garin was the DOH secretary in the tail end of the Aquino administration when the P3.5-billion mass dengue immunization program was implemented by the government.

They were charged for “inexcusable lack of precaution and foresight” and because they “totally disregarded the identified risks and adverse effects of the vaccine”.

Former President Benigno Aquino III said the Dengvaxia issue was just used to demonize the former administration and that the rise in dengue cases would have been avoided if the program was continued.

“The thing that could have protected the health of our citizens cannot deliver anymore because of politics and a lot of bad motivation,” Aquino said in a report of the Philippine Star. “The protection that could have been given to a lot of people was not given… It is like a scandal and an alarm. If there are people who were killed, they should be held liable.”

Aquino, who was also investigated for his role in the controversy, is turning the tables on his detractors, saying those behind the plot to scare away Filipinos from the use of Dengvaxia should be held accountable.

It was actually President Duterte’s Spokesman Salvador Panelo who first floated the idea of allowing the use of Dengvaxia in the country again in response to the rise in dengue cases.

“If we know that Dengvaxia could be used for seropositive patients, then why don’t we try it? We will just consider it. We have to make a study. As I said earlier, it needs, requires a serious study before we can use it,” he told reporters. “Why not use Dengvaxia for those who already had dengue before? Because it would surely work there. Mine is only a suggestion. But didn’t they say that the dengue cases are worsening? We need a vaccine for that.”

Photo Credit: PhilStar / Kriz John

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