Coronavirus takes its toll on doctors in the frontlines; nine fatalities reported amid virus fight


(Eagle News) — Nine doctors have already died due to coronavirus as lack of protective personal equipment started to take its toll on the country’s health profession in the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

The war against the coronavirus has in fact taken some of the best doctors in the Philippines, among them a top cardiologist Dr. Raul Jara, the former head of the Philippine Heart Association; a Pampanga provincial health officer, Dr. Marcelo Jaochico, who is one of the country’s first “doctors to the barrio”;  and the latest was a top pediatrician, Dr. Dr. Sally Gatchalian, the head of the Philippine Pediatric Society and the ninth doctor to succumb to the disease.

According to the Philippine Medical Association, the other doctors who died while fighting the battle against the virus were Dr. Israel Bactol, cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center; Dr. Rose Pulido, oncologist at San Juan de Dios Hospital; Dr. Greg Macasaet III, anesthesiologist at the Manila Doctors Hospital; Dr. Henry Fernandez of Pangasinan Medical Society; and Dr. Hector Alvarez of Novaliches District Hospital.

The Philippine medical community mourned the loss to their ranks, as well as their kin who recalled their bravery, heroism and selfless dedication.

The lack of protective personal gear for the medical practitioners, and  the lack of information relayed by the initial wave of patients who sought treatment, not knowing that they already had COVID-19, contributed to the loss of some of the frontliners in the medical field.

Many doctors, nurses and other health care workers were also placed under quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19 infected persons including those who knew they had symptoms of the disease but had no positive test results yet.

Because of this, the Philippine Medical Association recently issued a statement supporting the stand of the Makati Medical Center that denounced the breach in protocol done by a COVID-19 infected Philippine senator who brought his wife to the medical facility’s delivery room although he was supposed to be under strict quarantine.

“Publicly known is the already dwindling number of frontline doctors and nurses and we could not afford more of this to happen,” the PMA statement said.

-Repeat COVID-19 tests urged for doctors-

A PMA official even warned that doctors could be carriers too, as he urged the need for the medical frontliners to be tested first.

“If it were up to me, test the frontliners first and test them again after seven days. Doctors could be carriers themselves,” the association’s vice president Benito Atienza told Agence France Presse.

Three large Manila hospitals announced Wednesday they had reached full capacity and would no longer accept new coronavirus cases.

Hundreds of medical staff are also no longer treating patients because they are undergoing 14-day self-quarantines after suspected exposure.

“Unless we are able to move the new patients to other hospitals, our healthcare delivery system is going to break down,” Medical City said in a statement.

The hospital added that patients suspected of having the virus were queuing up for space in intensive care, while more than 130 staff members were in isolation.

Makati Medical Center, which has so far seen around 700 cases, said a number of its frontline physicians and nurses were being treated.

“As such, we can no longer extend the same degree of care and attention for any additional admission for COVID-19 cases,” it added.

-Many health practitioners hospitalized-

Dr. Dennis de Guzman, former assistant director general of the Philippine Medical Association, said that many doctors and other health professionals are themselves hospitalized after being infected by the virus, many of them “intubated.”

“Nalulungkot ang aming komunidad na doctor. Sunod sunod halos ang pagpanaw ng aming kasamahang doctor na lumalaban, front liners, dito sa COVID na ‘to,” De Guzman said in a previous interview in a local radio station, DZBB.

Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that the DOH has already started distributing thousands of face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment such as isolation gowns, face shields, and alcohol and disinfectant powders for the country’s health force.

He also expressed the DOH’s sincere condolences to the family of doctors and other health professionals who died while fighting the virus, and called on the public to observe physical distancing and to stay at home amid the virus crisis.

He said that P1 million will be given to the families of health workers who died.

He also promised hazard pay for regular health workers, as well as volunteers.

Philhealth will also shoulder all medical expenses of health workers who get sick amid the virus crisis. He said health workers would get P100,000 in financial assistance in case they get sick.

(with a report from Agence France Presse)