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DoH’s lack of urgency is dangerous to public health

Happy Hour got wind of a very disquieting experience that a topnotch hotel in Metro Manila allegedly had with the Department of Health and the Makati City Health Office-Health Emergency Management Staff, which prompted the hotel (which we will not name for obvious reasons) to write to the Philippine Hotel Owners Association Inc.

The hotel narrated two incidents involving guests who were tagged as “persons of interest” by the DoH because they reportedly displayed symptoms indicative of MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus), the first one happening towards the latter part of January. According to the hotel, it received a call at around 10 a.m. from the DoH-NCR that one of the guests who went for a consultation with a leading hospital exhibited MERS-CoV symptoms­—which the hospital promptly reported to the DoH. The hotel was then informed that a medical team from the Makati HEMS would extract and quarantine the guest—which is the right protocol to isolate the “person of interest” and protect the others in case he really is afflicted with the dreaded virus. 

The medical team arrived in the afternoon—around 3:30 p.m., but was unable to extract the guest because the latter was already out by then. Later that evening, the hotel immediately called the medical team leader advising that the guest had arrived—only to be told that since it was already past 5 p.m., the team will just come back the next morning at 9 a.m.

Well, what do you know, 9 a.m. the next day came and went but no medical team arrived. Naturally concerned, the hotel called the DoH who said that it will send another team, then was later told that there were no staff available. The hotel physician was then instructed to examine the guest for MERS-CoV symptoms and perform the throat swab test.

The second incident happened in the third week of February with the DoH-NCR calling the said hotel, saying that a guest who went for a consultation at the same leading hospital the night before showed MERS-CoV symptoms. Apparently, the hospital immediately reported the findings to the D0H—but the latter took its own sweet time and waited until the next day to inform the hotel.

Following protocol, the hotel nurse requested the DoH to issue a letter stating that quarantine was necessary so that there would be an official document to show the guest, but the DoH said there was no reason to issue a letter because a medical team was on the way to extract the guest. However, the hotel guest refused to be confined at the RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine) for two days because he was already leaving for the Middle East the next day. The medical team then performed the throat swab procedure—and released the results two days later. Fortunately, the guest—who had since left the country—tested negative for MERS-CoV.  We can’t really blame the hotel though for wondering if others have had similar experiences with the DoH and its local offices and hospitals.

Philippine Hotel Owners Association president Arthur Lopez said the two incidents experienced by the hotel are indeed disturbing and has raised a number of concerns from their group. For instance, will there be rapid reaction or deployment from the DOH once it receives information about potential MERS-CoV (or other communicable diseases for that matter) presence? Are government hospitals ready to accept and isolate those suspected of carrying the virus?

The question is if the DoH has sufficient equipment or facilities to deal with MERS-CoV cases in case the disease spreads. From the two incidents, it’s obvious that the health institutions lack coordination which could have potentially fatal consequences. Wasn’t it only last year when the Philippines reported the first incident of a MERS-CoV death—a Saudi national – who arrived in the Philippines Sept. 17, reportedly showed symptoms of the disease on Sept. 26 and then died three days later—with the DoH claiming it only found out about it on the day the foreigner died. 

We suspect that the medical team leader who went to the hotel during the first incident is afflicted with the 5:01 virus—since he refused to extract the hotel guest the minute the latter arrived because it was already past 5 p.m. And this is what really scares us—the lack of urgency displayed by the DoH and Makati HEMS in trying to extract and isolate the guest who showed symptoms of the MERS-CoV—a deadly corona virus strain which, if left unchecked, could spread like wildfire and become a pandemic. In case the DoH does not realize it, the lack of urgency on the part of its personnel is dangerous to public health.

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Topics: Happy Hour , DoH , public health
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