President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday designated the Office of the Civil Defense as the main coordinating agency for all donations to the government intended for its COVID-19 response, saying all medical products should be automatically cleared to reach hospitals and medical facilities swiftly.
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In response to the President’s Administrative Order 27, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) issued guidelines for the prompt release of donated medical products and for the implementation of tax and duty-exempt importations of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other emergency medical supplies, under the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.”
The BOC said importers of PPEs and medical equipment and supplies for commercial purposes no longer need to present various certificates issued by the Food and Drug Administration.
Meanwhile, the OCD must prepare an inventory of all the donations to the national government and the Department of Health and coordinate with relevant agencies such as the Labor and Social Welfare departments in the determination of which health facilities, beneficiary groups or establishments, are in need of medical goods.
Direct donations to agencies and state hospitals will still be allowed but these should be immediately reported to the OCD.
The Department of National Defense was tasked to provide logistical support to the OCD to ensure distribution and delivery of the donated medicines, medical equipment and supplies and other health products.
Presidential Peace Adviser and chief implementer of the national action plan against COVID-19 Carlito Galvez Jr. will supervise the consolidation, management, inventory, recording and distribution of donations.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country can have more and cheaper ventilators to be used by COVID-19 patients with severe cases once those designed by University of the Philippines scientists are finished.
She said the ventilator being developed by UP-Manila National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) would help meet the demand as cases continue to climb.
“We now have locally-produced ventilators being developed by scientists from the UP-NIH, but I don’t like to disclose it yet. They are not finished yet," Vergeire said.
Vergeire said there are 1,263 ventilators nationwide of which about 153 are in Metro Manila. She also said the DOH was working with the Department of Budget and Management to import 1,500 more.
She also said the country has received six donated ventilators and expects more to come in in the coming days.
The World Health Organization on Sunday urged all countries to prepare for the care for patients severely sickened by the newcoronavirus by stocking up on ventilators.
The UN health agency said in its latest situation report on COVID-19 that "oxygen therapy is a major treatment intervention for patients with severe COVID-19."
"All countries should work to optimize the availability of pulse oximeters and medical oxygen systems," it said.
It warned that mortality among those suffering with critical illness had been reported at over 50 percent, emphasizing that rapid "critical care interventions such as lung protective ventilation should be optimized."
Ventilators are crucial to support COVID-19 patients who are in critical condition because these help them breathe when their lungs fail.
The mortality rate in the outbreak appears to be between 2 and 5 percent.
The UN health agency stressed the importance of early recognition, followed by "implementation of appropriate infection prevention and control (IPC) measures; provision of symptomatic care for those with mild illness; and optimized supportive care for those with severe disease."
Vergeire also said the Philippines will receive in April some 900,000 units of protective gear for health workers.
She said initial batch of 200,000 personal protective equipment will arrive in the Philippines between April 1 and 6. The 700,000 other units will be delivered through April 24.
The lack of protective gear has led to the deaths of several doctors and health workers.
The Philippine General Hospital, one of the government's COVID-19 referral centers, said its current inventory of protective gear might last for a week or two at most, depending on the influx of patients.
The Lung Center of the Philippines, on the other hand, called for donations of bleaching agents that will be used to sanitize its laboratory and rooms for patients with the novel coronavirus.
The hospital's spokesperson Dr. Norbert Francisco said it needs about 100 gallons of bleaching agents like Chlorox or Lysol per month to disinfect the 66 rooms that it allotted to COVID-19 patients and its laboratory that runs tests for the respiratory disease,.
He said the rooms of COVID patients need double,or triple stripping.
"Ordinary sanitation won't cut it. Especially now that our COVID laboratory has begun testing, we need thorough cleaning," Francisco said.
The Lung Center has one machine that can analyze 40 samples from suspected COVID-19 patients every 10 hours. There are two medical technicians who run the tests. The hospital is training more personnel to do the tests and aims to get one or two more machines for the screening, said Francisco said.
He said Lung Center had converted some of its rooms into dorms for workers. Some nearby hotels also offered free lodging to the hospital employees.
The emergency room of The Medical City in Pasig, Dr. Sally-Mae Abelanes said, was turned into an intensive care unit (ICU) due to high influx of admission of patients.
She said patients have been in the converted ICU for over a week as they were still awaiting the results of their COVID-19 test.
The supply of protective gear in the hospital has also begun to run low since they have to change them every time they touch COVID-19 patients.
Abelanes said the emergency department alone used 200 N95 masks daily.
Meanwhile, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) Forum Halls, the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Pasay City were converted into temporary health facilities and will be open next week to accommodate COVID-19 patients as well as patients-under-investigation (PUIs) and patients-under-monitoring (PUMs), the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said.
DPWH Secretary Mark Villar ordered the completion of the conversion of the three health facilities in 10 days.
“One of the facilities is expected to be completed within the week,” he said..
Villar said the conversion will help control the spread and take PUIs and PUMs out of their communities.
“As most of health facilities in Metro Manila have reached or nearing maximum capacity, the immediate conversion of PICC Forum Halls will significantly provide an optimal isolation space for monitoring of
people infected by COVID-19 virus. We want to decongest the hospitals,” Villar said.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Panfilo Lacson said Congress and the Filipino people may no longer forgive President Rodrigo Duterte if it can be proven that the Department of Health (DOH) bought personal protective equipment (PPE) sets at P1,800 each when market value was only between P400 and P1,000 and he fails to act on it.
"Considering that this is a different level of greed and corruption especially at a time of national crisis, Congress as well as the Filipino people may not be forgiving or nonchalant anymore, " Lacson said.
He was reacting to claims by Senator Grace Poe that the DOH failed to generate a minimum of P800 million in savings when it did not buy PPEs at a cheaper price but of the same quality. She said this would have only cost the DOH about P400 million to P1 billion.
Vergeire defended the purchase, saying they bought a complete PPE set that included N95 masks, overalls, gloves, head cover, shoe covers, goggles, surgical mask, and surgical gowns.
She pointed out that not all PPEs being purchased by various groups and DOH are the same.
"What we’re buying are sets that vary for our facilities. The set that we bought is the most complete, there are eight PPE types inside the sets," Vergeire said.
She also noted that a PPE prescribed for health workers in the intensive care unit is different from PPEs used by those who conduct contact tracing of patients.
On Monday, the DOH disclosed that it was awaiting the delivery of 1 million sets of PPE, which will be distributed to both public and private hospitals treating COVID-19 patients and people under investigation and under monitoring. It has P225 million left from the budget allocated for PPEs.
Poe also appealed to the DOH to ease the bureaucratic bottleneck and red tape in the distribution of personal protective equipment donations and other critical medical devices to hospitals designated to treat COVID-19 patients.
“More than two weeks into the enhanced quarantine, swift action and massive testing will help accelerate collaborative efforts to contain the pandemic, a valuable lesson we could learn from our Asian counterparts who have become successful in slowing down the spread of the disease,” Poe said.
Appealing for sense of urgency, she hoped that the DOH could further streamline its processes in making donated PPEs readily available to hospitals and frontliners in light of the increasing number of infections every day.
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