“It is not enough for the Philippine government to just warn OFWs of the virus. They have to be more pro-active and deploy medical personnel to attend to the needs of our OFWs, especially those stranded and lacking medical assistance and facilities in shelters and detention centers.” – Garry Martinez, Migrante International
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Migrante International called on President Aquino to provide urgent medical assistance to Filipinos working in the Middle East following the death of a Filipino paramedic who contracted a deadly respiratory virus in the United Arab Emirates.
“It is not enough for the Philippine government to just warn OFWs of the virus. They have to be more pro-active and deploy medical personnel to attend to the needs of our OFWs, especially those stranded and lacking medical assistance and facilities in shelters and detention centers,” Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, in news reports, has confirmed the death of a Filipino worker in the United Arab Emirates due to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – Corona Virus (MERS-CoV).
“The DFA wishes to advise Filipinos in the Middle East to take necessary precautions and to follow the advise of the local health authorities in their host countries following the recent reports of Filipino nationals affected by MERS-Cov in the UAE,” DFA spokesperson Charles Jose said in a news report.
Migrante International said there are five other Filipinos in Al ain, located in the border of Oman and about 160 kilometers from Abu Dhabi, afflicted by the virus.
“The Filipino nationals, all paramedics, were said to have contracted the virus from routine check-ups,” the group said in a statement sent to the media.
World Health Organization, on its website, said the MERS-CoV is a particular strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. “There is very limited information on transmission, severity and clinical impact with only a small number of cases reported thus far.”
As of this writing, the WHO said that since September 2012, there have been 228 laboratory-confirmed cases of human infection of MERS-CoV, including 92 deaths.
Affected countries in the Middle East include Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While there are also affected countries in Europe and in North Africa, WHO noted that these “cases have been imported from the Middle East with some secondary transmission.”
On its report dated Apr. 14, 2014, WHO said, “a 45-year-old man from Abu Dhabi who became ill on April 6 was on hospitalized on April 7 and died on April 10. The patient was not known to have any chronic disease. He did not have a recent history of travel or contact with animals or with previously laboratory-confirmed case.”
“It is not always possible to identify patients with MERS-CoV early because some have mild or unusual symptoms. For this reason, it is important that health-care workers apply standard precautions consistently with all patients – regardless of their diagnosis – in all work practices all the time,” WHO said in its report.
Lack of medical assistance
Martinez said the lack of medical assistance provided to OFWs who may be exposed to the virus or those who are returning to the Philippines is “a big irony and insult especially after the government has imposed a 160 percent increase in Philhealth premium for OFWs.”
Martinez said many stranded OFWs in the Middle East are susceptible to illnesses as “they are exposed to the unbearable heat, have no access to Philippine posts for their sanitary needs and are in short of food, water and medicine.”
Migrante International also raised their concern for OFWs returning from Middle East countries. Citing a previous case they handled, the group said in a statement that “one very sick OFW was brought to the Migrante office in Quezon City because OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) merely gave her ordinary bus fare to go home to Mindanao.”