Filipino nurses have the right to work overseas, but their departure could lead to a shortage in the future, President Rodrigo Duterte said in a publicly broadcast speech late last night.
Some nurses who have existing contracts in overseas hospitals have been barred from leaving the country after the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency issued a deployment ban on all Filipino health workers, with the intention of getting them to work in the country while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. However, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin opposed the move because it infringed on a person’s right to travel, and convinced the government to allow the nurses to leave the Philippines.
Duterte said he understands why Filipino healthcare workers have to leave for greener pastures.
“That’s for self-preservation. They need to work and now there are jobs in America and they are going there. The problem is America— you could have relied on your own human resource. What I mean is, you should have relied on your own people. You’re getting them from the Philippines and when the time comes, it becomes bad for us,” the president said in English and Filipino.
The United States has been severely affected by COVID-19, and many hospitals are suffering from an acute shortage of nurses due to the pandemic. In the past, thousands of Filipino nurses have moved to the U.S. to work, but visa restrictions are stopping them from working in America. However, Filipino nurses have chosen to work in other countries, such as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
“But I’m not blaming them. I’m not mad. I don’t have any emotions actually about this. But if you Filipino nurses want to serve another country, other people, that’s OK with me. Just remember, when things become tough, we will have a hard time. What Teddy Boy [Locsin] said that we can’t stop Filipinos because they have to honor their contracts and because they have the right to travel, me, I’d like to take the opposite view,” Duterte added.
The president also claimed last night that an unnamed pharmaceutical company is working on an antibody that could treat COVID-19. Once this is available, he is likely to lift the Luzon lockdown, which is supposed to end on April 30.
“Someone has made an antibody. Not an antibody from a human being. There is a medicine, [an] antibody of a giant pharmaceutical…they say [in] May they will start to market it. The problem is we are on the last ladder [of their priorities]. The ones who will get it first are the rich countries. If there is that [antibody] and I see that people can use it, I’ll lift [the lockdown]. Anyway if you get sick there are antibodies that we can buy,” Duterte said.
Companies all over the world are working on possible treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, which has infected more than two million patients globally. Experts say it would take about a year to 18 months to develop a safe vaccine, while several countries have been trying medicines such as remdesivir to treat their patients.
In Manila, the Philippine General Hospital is using an experimental treatment where blood is transfused from a recovered COVID-19 person into another patient. Research has shown that the blood of a recovered person contains antibodies that have successfully fought off the virus which could help other patients recover.
The Philippines has 4,932 COVID-19 cases as of yesterday, the highest number in Southeast Asia.
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