A year since the COVID-19 virus made its way to the Philippines, with the already overworked, understaffed and underpaid medical sector already running on fumes, the Philippine Medical Students’ Association (PMSA) called for the safe reopening of Health Education Institutions. This is in-light of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) pushing for medical schools to gradually reopen for physical classes as well.
In a statement, the PMSA have reported that there have been numerous requests in which face-to-face classes should be conducted for medicine schools, but CHED, the Department of Health (DOH), and the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges (APMC) made it their least priority agenda, which could have helped the ailing national workforce of medical frontliners.
“Medical students are kept in the dark as only bits and pieces of news regarding the resumption of face-to-face learning are coming out,” they said.
PMSA also appealed to the abovementioned agencies, as well as the deans and administrators of Health Education Institutions to craft proper guidelines and plan the safe return of clerks and interns in their respective hospital duties. In line with this, the group presented the five-point demands.
These five demands included consultations on plans for physical classes and hospital duties, giving clinical clerks and interns frontliner perks (e.g. allowances and free personal protective equipment [PPE] and swab testing among others), regular checkup for possible COVID-19 symptoms, and financial and medical compensation and support for infected students
They also called to have medical students be prioritized in the vaccination program’s “first-priority-health frontliners”
“Physical duty remains to be a part of the curriculum to produce a licensed physician; therefore, it is but proper for the institution to provide for any worker who cares for the hospital’s patients, whether they be licensed doctors or nurses, or clerks/interns in training,” PMSA said, adding that medical schools should have the capacity to “totally provide” for the students’ necessities, especially for those who still paid the regular tuition even in the online set-up.
Lack of manpower
A CNN Philippines report showed that the Philippines have become the “biggest supplier of nurses worldwide”, in which over a hundred thousand registered nurses flee overseas to find a better-paying medical job. The excess workloads that lasted for about 12 to even 24 hours, low compensation, and delays in benefits lead to the nation’s healthcare system.
“Historically and based on our experience, if we will not protest and assert [for] our [sic] rights for salary increase, benefits, security of tenure and safe working condition[s], they will not provide it voluntarily,” Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRRMC) Union-Alliance of Health Workers head Cristy Donguines said, following a protest by the union on grounds of measly pays.
One example of this lack of compensation was the death of medical front liner Ma. Theresa Cruz back in August, 2020, wherein she only got P60.93 per day, in compensation unlike the P500 per day that was promised by the DOH.
In terms of manpower, the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team reported in April 2020 that the doctor-to-population ratio of the country is well below the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO), standing at just 3.7 doctors per 10,000 population, with which WHO prescribes a doctor per 1,000 population (1:1000). Some imbalances are also seen on this scale across the regions. The National Capital Region (NCR), for instance, tallies a ratio of 10 doctors per 10,000 residents. Meanwhile, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) records an incredibly-low 0.8 per 10,000.
Safety (must always come) first
It was reported by GMA News that some about 180 to 200 medical students of UP Manila were involved in internship and clerkship programs. Three of them tested positive for the virus.
Despite this, Dr. Charlotte Chiong, UPM’s College of Medicine Dean, said that the college administration is “pretty confident” with the imposed health protocols that led them to conduct face-to-face classes for their students.
“Mas marami ang [naitatalang] transmission [ng virus] sa community kaysa sa ospital. That [idea was what] we [had] already established because we did more than 11,000 test[s] for healthcare workers within PGH (Philippine General Hospital),” Dr. Chiong said.
However, the risk of infection remained.
The number of medical frontliners who have contracted COVID-19 has risen since the arrival of the virus in the Philippines. From more than 1,100 in April, then a little over 5,000 in August, to above 10,000 in October. As of January 24, 2021, there are 14,286 medical frontliners infected, and almost 14,000 of which have already recovered.
Moreover, most of the 78 medical professionals who died from COVID-18 were physicians.
In light of these, PMSA encouraged hospital administrators to ensure the safety of the clerks and interns to perform their best duties whilst in a health crisis.
“The occupational health and safety of all healthcare workers must be prioritized and assured,” PMSA said. [P]
Photo from PMSA / Facebook