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Philippine doctors need protection, not lawyers

Health workers are making wills amid a spate of deaths among physicians as a result of Covid-19

Philippine doctors need protection, not lawyers

A volunteer manning a checkpoint flags a vehicle next to a coffin with a note that says ‘Stay at home or stay inside’ to keep residents from going out in the town of Santo Tomas, Pampanga province, north of Manila on March 26. (Photo: Ron Lopez/AFP)  

I never thought lawyers would have a role in a pandemic. The Supreme Court of the Philippines has suspended all court proceedings due to enhanced community quarantines until April 14.

Now is the time to give masks and food packs to healthcare workers who tirelessly devote their lives to the increasing number of Covid-19 patients.

In just two days, I received three calls from three different doctors who are good friends of mine. They all asked me the same question — how to write a last will and testament.

At first, I thought it was a joke. I even told them not to be so negative about their situation. To me, it was grotesque to prepare a will during a pandemic, especially if the testator (the one who makes a will) is a friend or relative.

But I felt a sense of anxiety in them. Has the pandemic grown so critical that doctors are beginning to fear they too will die anytime soon?

I checked the facts. As of March 30, 12 doctors had died because of Covid-19 in the Philippines. The number of confirmed cases had drastically risen to 1,418, with 71 deaths.

Among them were the 12 doctors. That comprises nearly 20 percent of the people who expired. At least seven doctors are still in critical condition.

Allow me to honor and mention the names of these heroes released by the Philippine Medical Society: Dr. Israel Bactol, cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center; Dr. Rose Pulido, oncologist at San Juan De Dios Hospital; Dr. Gregorio Macasaet III, anesthesiologist at Manila Doctors Hospital; Dr. Raul Jara, cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center; Dr. Henry Fernandez of Pangasinan Medical Society; Dr. Marcelo Jaochico, provincial health officer of Pampanga; Dr. Raquel Seva, ob-gyn at Evangelista Specialty Hospital; Dr. Hector Alvarez of Novaliches District Hospital; Dr. Sally Gatchalian, president of the Philippine Pediatric Society; Dr. Helen Tudtud, a pathologist in Cebu City; Dr. Francisco Lukban; a geriatric cardiologist from the Philippine General Hospital; and Dr. Nicko Bautista, from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila).

The doctors died because they were not getting enough protection. The Philippine General Hospital, the country’s largest state hospital, has already called for donations for masks and hand sanitizers. Some health workers are now forced to wear garbage bags as personal protective equipment.

Mass testing is still not available. Testing kits are only reserved for those showing symptoms or signs of the virus. And those who are asymptomatic are not prioritized. Many fear that even doctors and nurses themselves may be carriers of the virus. But their hands are tied due to the number of testing kits available in their respective medical facilities. No symptoms, no testing.

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Compared to South Korea’s testing capacity of 15,000 tests per day, including 43 drive-through testing centers, the Philippines can only conduct an average of 1,000 tests per day, according to a Department of Health report. Results are released only after two weeks.

So, there’s no doubt — our frontline health workers’ lives are at risk. And with less manpower in hospitals due to quarantined health workers, the challenge is multiplied a thousand times.

Health reform advocates are calling for mass testing to avoid a collapse of the Philippines’ healthcare system.

They claim there are five to 10 health workers — doctors and nurses alike — who are exposed to Covid-19 patients every day. This brings a total of nearly 300 doctors and nurses who are presently under quarantine.

Hospitals have stopped accepting Covid-19 patients because they have reached maximum capacity. All ventilators are also being used.  Quarantining is now being done in tents on basketball courts.

So, perhaps my friends are right. With a lack of adequate protection, maybe their only recourse with this pandemic is for them to write their wills.

However, I realized that writing one is not a sign of hopelessness. It is rather a sign of courage and strength. It is a reminder that as doctors continue to fight Covid-19, they are still the ones in control of their wills and hard-earned properties — even in death.

Yes, our healthcare heroes — doctors, nurses, among others — may lose their lives in this battle. But they are undefeated. Thinking of their loved ones' future is a testament that no virus can kill.

This ability to think above oneself is the very fabric that has woven every nation. And this, too, is the antidote to every pandemic. When every person cares, every nation will stand strong and undefeated against this invisible enemy.

Joseph Peter Calleja is a lawyer and editor of Bayard Philippines. He is also a member of the Lay-Religious Alliance of the Assumptionists.

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