MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) insisted Tuesday that it did not violate the standard protocols when two of its high officials and of that the military visited the more than 130 peacekeepers currently undergoing the 21-days quarantine period in Caballo Islands.
This was strongly emphasized by the DOH during a press briefing held in its Media Relations Unit in Tayuman, Manila Tuesday.
“On the issue, if there was violation, the answer was none. We did it on the basis of call of duty. We did it because it was necessary,” said DOH Acting Secretary Janette L. Garin.
Acting Secretary Garin also explained that they (together with DOH spokesperson Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio “Pio” Catapang) did the “visit” on the basis of their judgment that the peacekeepers being quarantined are human beings whose other concerns like wanting to talk with the authorities handling their quarantine program are to be met.
“It is also my duty to allay the fears of our peacekeepers and help address their medical concerns. We held discussions with our soldiers and answered the questions they raised,” Garin added.
Garin further said that it was a vital part of her duty as acting Secretary of Health to conduct the “visit” to ensure that the country’s UN Peacekeepers have the proper facilities and being afforded with the proper medical treatment.
On the issue on why they did not use personal protective equipments (PPEs) during the visit in the quarantine site, she pointed out that they find the use of PPE “not applicable” or “inappropriate” since the peacekeepers were not showing signs and symptoms of Ebola.
“The use of PPE is only necessary when the patient is showing signs and symptoms of Ebola virus disease (EVD),” she pointed out, adding that those who are under the quarantine area were still considered “Ebola-free” and not infectious but undergoing the quarantine period to ensure there will be an easier control of the spread of infection in the event that possible Ebola-patient was detected among those who are subjected to the protocol.
She also said that it is possible that a “stigma” scenario may occur if relatives, friends and the public as well will see that they (DOH and AFP officials) who are handling the program of quarantine were using PPEs in dealing with the peacekeepers during the visit.
She said that the peacekeepers even pleaded to help explain to the public that they are human beings who should still be considered Ebola-free as there were still with no signs that they are positive with the virus.
“We also enlightened them (soldiers) that there are certain guidelines to follow when to use and not to use PPEs,” the acting health chief added.
She reiterated that EVD is only contagious if the patient is manifesting symptoms.
“While EVD is fatal, the virus is not an easy virus to catch. This is not airborne,” she said.
She further said that at this point when Ebola is considered a global public threat, it is urgent to stop misinformation that will create unnecessary fear.
“We again, ask our media friends, for their support in explaining ways to control and prevent the spread of Ebola,” she added.
She also appealed to brothers and sisters in the medical profession to base their statements on facts and internationally accepted guidelines.
“Doctors, we count on you and we need you to be a part of the campaign. There is no other time for us to work together than now,” she added.