MANILA – A team was recently sent by the Philippine government to Africa to provide assistance to Filipinos there, in the event the Ebola situation worsens. The rapid response team includes representatives from various sectors and agencies of government, but – strangely enough – does not include anyone from the Department of Health (DOH).
On Tuesday, while deliberating on the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) proposed 2015 budget, the Senate learned that the group sent to Africa includes personnel from the DFA, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and Philippine National Police (PNP).
The DOH has no representative on the team. This, despite having been informed a month ago by the DFA that a group would be sent out to the Philippine diplomatic post in Nigeria, in order to assist Filipino nationals with the repatriation process should the Ebola outbreak intensify to an “alert level-3.”
“The DOH knows that they are very essential… I cannot understand why the DOH is not on top of this. I am certain they would wish to help. Nakaligtaan lang (They just overlooked the matter). Could we request the DFA na kayo na ang mangulit? (Could we request the DFA to be the one to follow up on this?),” Sen. Loren Legarda said.
It is essential for health officials to be part of the rapid response team, especially in the medical evaluation of Filipinos – mostly OFWs – from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia; the countries hardest-hit by Ebola.
Officials from the DFA said that they have already set a meeting with the DOH, and that members of both agencies would discuss on Tuesday the possibility of assigning three doctors to the rapid response team in Africa.
Meanwhile, DFA spokesperson Charles Jose said that despite the absence of DOH staff, the members of the rapid response team “already underwent basic infection prevention training. In some sense, prepared naman sila (they are prepared) to handle cases.”