Answering President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for more health workers, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Friday it will deploy five medical teams to augment the manpower of hospitals in the National Capital Region that are dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases.
AFP Surgeon General, Col. Fatima Claire Navarro, said Friday two teams will come from the Army, and one each from the AFP Health Services Command, Navy, and Air Force.
"Each team will be composed of one doctor, one nurse, and three airmen," Navarro said in a statement.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) will determine which me be augmented by the AFP’s medical contingent.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, meanwhile, committed the PNP’s Medical Reserve Force (MRF) of about 150 members to help out in Metro Manila hospitals.
Eleazar said they will also do an accounting of PNP personnel with a medical background to augment the MRF.
This is as the Philippines has a shortage of 92,000 physicians and 44,000 nurses, a Department of Health (DOH) official told a congressional hearing late Thursday into the annual deployment cap on health care workers.
At a hearing of the House committee on overseas workers, Health Assistant Secretary Kenneth Ronquillo also said there was a shortage of 19,000 medical technologists, 14,000 pharmacists and 17,000 radiologic technicians and technologists.
The figures, he said, were provided by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and were the bases for the deployment caps.
The Philippines logged 18,659 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total number of infections to 2,453,328 -- but no deaths were reported yesterday “due to technical issues,” the Health department said.
“The Department of Information and Communications Technology is currently addressing [these] issues encountered by the system,” the DOH said in its case bulletin.
The COVID-19 death toll since the start of the pandemic is 37,405.
On Wednesday, National Task Force testing czar Vince Dizon pleaded with Duterte to back up health workers who themselves have fallen sick and died to the coronavirus onslaught.
The President thus called on the medical personnel of the police and the military to help hospitals that are struggling with the influx of COVID-19 patients.
“We will be visiting hospitals because we have received a very worrisome report that many of our hospitals, including the private hospitals that are among the biggest and the best, are closing down COVID wards because of the lack of health care workers,” Dizon told Duterte during a pre-recorded Talk to the People.
“This is, I think, our biggest challenge now, Mr. President. We have to understand as the numbers show, we are not out of the woods because of the Delta variant. Even if there seems to be a decline–a slight decline in cases–these cases are still very high. And our hospitals are still overburdened.”
“The most worrisome problem is the health care workers getting sick, Mr. President, and we really need to augment and help them and really assist our hospitals as much as we can,” Dizon added.
The deployment, which is similar to the AFP’s past missions in Cebu and Davao in 2020, is over and above its current distribution of medical front-liners in mega-swabbing and quarantine facilities in Metro Manila, Navarro added.
The AFP said it is expediting the processing of appointments for newly-recruited military doctors and nurses to beef up its medical corps.
In June, the government increased the cap for the number of health workers that can be deployed abroad from 5,000 to 6,500.
Health care workers under government-to-government labor agreements, however, are exempted from the adjusted ceiling.
Meanwhile, the DOH reported 9,088 persons who recently recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total recoveries to 2,240,599.
Based on reports on Sept. 22, the Philippines was able to test 76,624 individuals, 24.2 percent of whom tested positive.
There were 175,324 active cases, of which 88.1 percent were mild, 6.9 percent of which were asymptomatic, 0.7 percent of which were critical, 1.5 percent of which were severe, and 2.84 percent of which were moderate.
Nationwide, 77 percent of the ICU beds, 65 percent of the isolation beds, 70 percent of the ward beds, and 55 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 76 percent of the ICU beds, 57 percent of the isolation beds, 68 percent of the ward beds, and 60 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
In other developments:
• The DOH said it has finished a series of online consultative meetings with some 6,000 health care workers to discuss multiple layers of protection. Various experts from the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), Technical Advisory Group (TAG), and the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) also attended the meetings, and said as yet, there is insufficient and inconclusive evidence to support the administration of vaccine booster shots.
• Senator Christopher Go welcomed the President’s call for AFP and PNP medical personnel to help Metro Manila hospitals deal with a surge of COVID-19 cases.