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Duque dictates on donors

Aldrin Cardona

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Amid the snowballing calls for better protection for the frontline health workers, it now appears that the Department of Health (DoH) is stalling the donation, purchase and delivery of the much-needed testing kits, personal protection equipment (PPE) and other medical necessities needed to combat COVID-19.

Medical industry stakeholders on Wednesday disclosed their predicament in securing medical equipment, machines and gears needed in their fight against the new coronavirus.

Some of the stakeholders accused Health Secretary Francisco Duque III of placing strict rules on the donations which have been pouring into the DoH, but which generally remains contained in its warehouses.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines, Duque was facing charges before the Office of the Ombudsman for alleged violations of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, as well as of plunder as defined and penalized under RA 7080 or the Plunder Law.

Duque was charged for alleged conflict of interest in the PhilHealth’s lease on a building owned by his family in Dagupan — a vote-rich city in Pangasinan. PhilHealth, the national health insurer, is an agency under the DoH.

Duque denied the allegations filed against him by the parents of 10 schoolchildren who allegedly died after being administered with the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in 2016. They were assisted by the Public Attorney’s Office.

The DoH had sanctioned the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Quezon City and the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City as COVID-19 facilities.

It is only the RITM which processes the tests, however. It is the reason for the slow processing of the results of patients who have been tested for the virus.

Slow response to medics

Even DoH insiders are lambasting Duque for his slow response to the needs of the medical workers in the frontlines.

They said Duque demands a letter from foreign and local donors, a checklist of their donations, their dates of delivery, identification of warehouses, their deeds of donation, and other requirements he would later deem as necessary.

“Now, our frontline workers — the doctors even — are dying!” a DoH source exclaimed. “And where are these donations? The DoH had announced they have arrived!”
A stakeholder, however, still made an appeal for Duque to allow other hospitals to procure their own testing machines if the government is alarmed at the rate of infections and deaths related to the virus.

The DoH disclosed 84 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, sending the total number of positive patients to 636. Official count of COVID-19 death is at 38, although some stakeholders claim these numbers do not reflect the true state of infection of the population.

“The RITM could not singlehandedly test all the infected patients. The numbers coming from the DoH could not be the real numbers. Even the World Health Organization had said that the only way to beat COVID-19 is through ‘test, test, test,’” he said.

“But how could we win this fight if the DoH, itself, is stalling other health facilities’ moves. We need to act collectively if we want to win this fight soonest,” he added.

Another source said the DoH should mandate all hospitals — public and private — to construct their own nuclear laboratories that would be ready if and when the DoH, along with the Bureau of Customs and the Food and Drug Administration, gives the green light for them to purchase their own testing kits and machines.

“These laboratories should be ready by now. Ready at any time,” he said.

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