ONLY days after they were criticized for breaking their own quarantine protocol, the military and the Department of Health were back in the limelight on Tuesday after four just-returned United Nations peacekeepers from Liberia were sent to a hospital that was not designated an Ebola facility.
“The decision to let them undergo the quarantine at the AFP Medical Center is based on the guidance from DOH,” said Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc.
Cabunoc explained that the four Filipino soldiers, who were among the country’s 112 UN peacekeepers in Liberia, were cleared after Ebola screening in Monrovia.
When asked whether the screening test was the same one given to people from other countries who later developed Ebola, Cabunoc said “the DOH can discuss further details about their quarantine procedures and duration.”
Col. Roberto Ancan, the commander of the Peacekeeping Operations Center, also declined to comment on why the four peacekeepers were brought to the AFPMC on V. Luma in Quezon City instead of the announced quarantine facility on Caballo Island at the mouth of Manila Bay.
“Let the DOH answer you that question,” Ancan said, adding that the four soldiers were enlisted personnel who stayed behind in Liberia to arrange with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force for transportation of their military equipment.
The military and the DOH came under fire last week for breaking their own announced quarantine protocol when they visited the peacekeepers isolated at Caballo island.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang later belittled the break of quarantine protocol because he was told that Ebola is only contagious when a person is already showing symptoms of the illness that has already killed more than 5,000 people all over the world.
But Dr. Anthony Leachon, president of the Philippine College of Physicians, said the point was that they broke their own quarantine protocol.
“It was a breach of protocol,” Leachon said. “Quarantine is an enforced isolation during the 21-day incubation period.... It might send the wrong signal.”
But DOH spokesperson Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy said there was no need to bring the four soldiers to Caballo Island since “there were only four of them” and their quarantine was already set to end on Dec. 3 so it was decided they could be isolated at the AFPMC.
Suy exploaned that while the AFPMC was not one of the Ebola facilities announced earlier, it also had a quarantine facility.
The DOH spokesman confirmed the four peacekeepers arrived through a commercial flight on last Saturday after they were cleared to travel by United Nations personnel.
Suy said the Filipino peacekeeper who fell ill with malaria two weeks ago is already back in Caballo Island to complete the 21-day quarantine period. “Currently, zero na ang kaniyang parasite level,” Suy told reporters in a media briefing.
Another peacekeeper who developed a sore throat is also well now and was also not brought to the designated Ebola facility, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
But a third peacekeeper from Caballo Island was rushed to the AFPMC Monday night because of chest pains, but officials declined to elaborate for the sake of the soldier’s privacy.
The first batch of the 133 peacekeepers, composed of 108 from the AFP, 24 from the Philippine National Police and one from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, from Liberia arrived on Nov. 12.
Since then, they have been quarantined on Caballo Island. They will stay there until Dec. 3 when they will undergo another routine medical test.
The peacekeepers were earlier tested negative for the virus prior to their departure from Liberia and they were also cleared in a thermal scanning procedure after landing in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, three volunteers from San Lazaro Hospital will join the Rapid Response Team sent by the Philippine government to West Africa to assess the situation of our Overseas Filipino Workers in Ebola-stricken countries, according to Senator Loren Legarda.
Citing information relayed to her by Suy, Legarda said the DOH was informed a month ago about the deployment of a team that will assist in repatriating Filipinos from Ebola-hit countries in Africa should the Philippine government raise the alert there to Level 3.
The Rapid Response Team is comprised of representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Philippine National Police and the DOH.
The presence of DOH experts is seen as important in conducing health checks on Filipinos currently in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, where Ebola has killed thousands.
“The DOH knows that they are very essential,” Legarda said. “I cannot understand why the DOH is not on top of this.”
Senator Cynthia A. Villar, a known advocate of Filipino migrant workers, earlier quizzed Legarda on the failure of the DOH to send its personnel to West Africa.
“What do you think is the reason why they are not sending any representatives?” asked Villar.
“I wish I could ask Secretary Garin now. They must be in the forefront of this battle? I wish I can answer you [but] I cannot answer for the DOH, ” said Legarda.
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