BY MIKE ORTEGA LIGALIG
Possibility of outbreak is very strong, says Dr. Arcay
Emerging from a mind-boggling Ebola summit recently held in Manila, a top hospital executive has warned Bohol officials that the dreaded virus could “possibly” reach Philippine shores and put Bohol as a vulnerable victim of provincewide outbreak due to the influx of tourists, some of whom are coming from African countries. “This is what I learned from the summit. We cannot live in a state of denial. The Philippines is at risk of Ebola outbreak, and our province could face a serious risk of contacting Ebola virus,” said Dr. Jose Teofilo Doliente Arcay, chief of the Gov. Celestino Gallares Memorial Hospital, during an exclusive interview with the Bohol Sunday Post yesterday right after he returned from a national summit on Ebola preparation. “We are not pushing the panic button,” Arcay said, “but we just have to accept the fact that it is very possible for Ebola virus to reach Bohol and we have to prepare for this possible scenario.”
Asked how strong is the possibility of contacting Ebola here, Arcay replied: “Very strong.” “Sooner or later, possible nga moabot ang Ebola sa Pilipinas,” Arcay added, quoting statements from health experts who spoke during the Ebola summit in Manila. The hospital chief said “it is just a matter of time” for Ebola to arrive in the Philippines due to the fact that the country has millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), some of whom are working in African countries. He said the possibility of Ebola entry here is also heightened by the fact that the country has many port of entries, open business market, and loose policy on immigration and tourist arrival. “I don't want to give false hopes nga moingon ta nga dili mahitabo nga moabot ang Ebola dinhi sa Bohol,” Arcay admitted. “Niabot man gani ang Ebola sa America ug Spain despite sa ka-estrikto sa ilang policy of entry sa airports,” he noted.
“We have to face this problem before it hits us,” he warned. He proposed that the provincial government should draft a contingency plan “if and when Ebola outbreak happens in Bohol.” “We need to detect and track those who may be infected with Ebola,” Arcay said. “People should report to authorities if they suspect a person as having infected with Ebola, or if a person has just travelled from Africa to the Philippines,” Arcay stressed. In Bohol, the Gallares Hospital is the lead government agency in the fight against the spread of Ebola. Arcay said he has formed a committee, in which he sits as chairperson, dedicated to warding off the spread of Ebola in Bohol. Arcay has called on the provincial and town officials to heed the warnings sounded by the Department of Health (DOH) and draft specific and concrete plans how to combat the deadly virus, which so far has no known cure.
National Summit on Ebola Virus
Meanwhile, the DOH has assured on Friday that the government has put in enough resources to deal with the threat of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) which has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "a public health emergency of international concern." “We are prepared with our multi-sectoral response plan for EVD,” DOH Secretary Enrique T. Ona said in his speech at the National Summit on Ebola Virus held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ortigas Center, Pasig City. Secretary Ona cited that part of the response plan is the preparation of isolation procedures in case the dreaded disease enters the country. He explained that they will implement contact-tracing for possible exposed individuals in EVD-infected places to prevent or minimize the entry or spread of the virus. “Isolation rooms in some DOH-owned hospitals in Manila and in other areas of the country are being prepared so that the rest of the public will not be infected if ever,” Ona said.
He assured that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and the Lung Center of the Philippines and San Lazaro Hospital as well as two older hospital facilities outside Manila are prepared to receive symptomatic cases. He also said that enough training for the health workers and experts on the case management of probable and confirmed cases, including laboratory testing of specimens from possible suspected cases and infection control, are already in place. In the open forum after his speech, the DOH chief cited the measures they have undertaken, like the close coordination in contact-tracing of a suspected Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) case as a clear example of the preparedness of the department in terms of dealing with it in case the EVD enters the country. He said some of the prepared plans of action of the DOH include case detection and reporting, outbreak management and response, surveillance at points of entry, case management, inter-agency coordination, planning and resource allocation.
“Travelers entering the Philippines from affected countries will undergo screening by our Bureau of Quarantine,” he stressed. Secretary Ona explained that the summit was conducted not only to reassure DOH commitment but also to gain the participation of all stakeholders, including the private sector, in the effort to keep the country Ebola virus-free. In August this year, the WHO declared the EVD outbreak in West Africa as a public health emergency of international concern. EVD has spread from Guinea to neighboring countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. At present, there are cases detected in Spain and in the United States. “We cannot be complacent about it,” the DOH chief said. He also said that they are planning to discuss intensively with all concerned agencies, as well as President Benigno S. Aquino III, about the global call for the deployment of Filipino health workers as volunteers or any other form of assistance for the affected countries, as initiated by the WHO, the United Nations and other international community agencies. (with reports by Leilani S. Junio of PNA Manila)