MANILA, Philippines - The seven overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who recently arrived from Sierra Leone are healthy and have not manifested any symptom of the Ebola virus, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday.
“The DOH is monitoring these OFWs for 30 days after their departure from their point of origin,” Health Secretary Enrique Ona said during a press briefing.
The OFWs were among the 15 repatriates from Sierra Leone, one of three countries where there has been an outbreak of the Ebola virus, and arrived in the country on different flights from June 26 to July 15. The rest have been cleared of the infection.
DOH spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy noted that it takes almost a month for Ebola symptoms to manifest.
The end of the 30-day period varies for each of the seven OFWs, but the last day of the monitoring will be on Aug. 28.
Personnel of the DOH’s Health Emergency Management Staff have been checking on the condition of the seven workers everyday. The DOH regional office near the patient will have to pick up and bring to a hospital for isolation and examination any of the OFWs who develop symptoms.
Ready for Ebola
Ona assured the public that DOH hospitals are prepared to handle Ebola cases.
He said the DOH’s Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the country’s referral center for infectious diseases, has seven negative pressure rooms, while the Lung Center of the Philippines has three, where patients can be confined. He said several other DOH hospitals have their own isolation rooms.
“We have the capacity to test and manage Ebola patients. The DOH has been in close coordination with other concerned agencies and we know what to do and measures are already in place. Knowing your enemy is half the battle,” he said.
He urged the public to observe personal hygiene and sanitation to avoid contracting the disease.
“The main way of getting infected is still our body fluids, the phlegm or blood, if you get exposed to blood, from stools and even from sex. The most common is still coughing… Hand washing is very important. And of course, stay as healthy as possible by making sure you are not overworked, and get adequate sleep and rest,” he said.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said Filipinos in Ebola-affected countries would be closely monitored.
She said the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) would come up with a memorandum circular to recruitment agencies to report on the status of these workers, particularly those in jobsites that exhibit symptoms of the virus.
“The agencies should report at least one week prior to return of a worker from any of these countries,” she said.
“The DOLE is doing its share of establishing preparedness and efficient response to assess, monitor, contain, control and prevent any potential outbreak of epidemic in the country,” she added.
She said a deployment ban is in effect in to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have been declared by the DFA under alert level 2 because of the Ebola outbreak.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the POEA also advised seafarers to exercise caution when their ships dock in any of the countries affected by the Ebola outbreak.
DFA Special Assistant for the Office for Migrant Workers Lorenzo Jungco said seafarers are discouraged from leaving the port when they unload cargo to minimize risk of infection.
“We hope that ship masters will remind their crew about the precautionary measures,” he said.
POEA director for OFW Health Concerns Nini Lanto said seafarers’ manning agencies should also remind their recruits about the precautionary measures against the Ebola virus.
She admitted that land-based workers in these West African countries are more at risk than seafarers whose ships only pass through the affected countries.
“We are meeting with the recruitment agencies to know the situation of our workers there and to tell them to always remind their recruits to observe precautionary measures. The government has been doing its best to protect our workers,” she said.
The DFA said there are around 880 Filipinos living in Guinea, 1,979 in Sierra Leone and 632 in Liberia, including 148 who are part of the United Nation Peacekeeping Force.
Records from the POEA, on the other hand, showed there are 72 OFWs in Guinea, 398 in Sierra Leone and 202 in Liberia.
Meanwhile, Vice President Jejomar Binay urged the DOH to institute preventive measures to minimize the risk of Ebola in the country.
“We need to provide adequate isolation and hydration facilities and protective wear for our health workers. At the same time, we need to roll out an intensive information campaign that will educate the people on this issue, to eliminate both panic and complacency,” he said.
“We will also require adequate screening and tracking at our ports of entry, especially for our overseas Filipino workers coming from Africa,” he added.
Binay, Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns, noted that as one of the world’s top labor-exporting countries, the Philippines is vulnerable to the disease.
“We need to anticipate any eventuality with regard to this virus reaching our own shores,” he said.
He said concerned embassies should take proper steps to ensure the safety of Filipinos.
“Given the disease’s 60 percent death rate and the extreme ease with which one can get infected with it, this is, if anything, a time to err on the side of caution. If it continues to spread, no other disease we have faced before would be as dangerous as this,” Binay said.