Health department questioned by Senator Poe over expensive protective gear

Health workers at the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Tondo, Manila. Photo: George Calvelo/ABS-CBN News
Health workers at the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Tondo, Manila. Photo: George Calvelo/ABS-CBN News

Senator Grace Poe is asking the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) to explain why they bought medical equipment that was supposedly more expensive than the gear’s market price.

The inquiry comes after the DOH announced on Monday that it bought PHP1.8 billion (US$35.4 million) worth of personal protective equipment (PPEs), which will be given to health workers in COVID-19 government hospitals in Luzon. Each set was worth PHP1,800 (US$35), which is more expensive than the PPEs bought by the office of Vice President Leni Robredo which cost almost PHP400 (US$8) per set.

In a statement, Poe said that a PPE should cost only somewhere between PHP400 and PHP1,000 (US$19).

“Confronting an extraordinary public health crisis requires [a] prompt response but in doing so, let us not forget the need for the judicious use of fund releases,” she said.

Read: Philippine General Hospital to run out of protective gear in two weeks due to COVID-19 demand

“Each peso that we can save during this time can be used in other government programs that could help our countrymen, especially those who need financial aid and food,” Poe added in Filipino.

In an online briefing yesterday, however, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the PPEs that her agency purchased were supposedly the most complete type, which explains their higher-than-usual price tag.

“The set that we procured is the most complete,” she said, adding that the PPEs comprised an N95 mask, overalls, gloves, head cover, shoe covers, goggles, surgical mask, and surgical gown.

“It’s not just one gear that’s included in the PHP1,800 but it’s composed of eight pieces of several PPEs that will be used by our health care workers,” Vergeire added.

She also said that there are different types of PPEs that are used for different “risk settings.”

“There’s the one used during a triage, one used during points of entry, another used during collection of specimen, for [the] transport of patients, and one used while taking care of suspected and confirmed patients,” Vergeire explained.

However, the ones procured by Robredo’s office were almost similar to the ones bought by the DOH. It is composed of an N-95 mask, a medical gown, two pairs of gloves, two pieces of head cover, two pairs of shoe cover, and a pair of goggles. As of March 29, Robredo’s team has distributed almost 33,000 PPEs to various hospitals in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon.

Read: UPDATED: Shortage of medical equipment for Filipino healthcare workers is real, people

Meanwhile, 200,000 PPEs bought by the DOH are expected to arrive from today up to April 6, which will be followed by 700,000 sets that are expected to arrive by April 24, The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports.  The Office of the Civil Defense will help the DOH disseminate the PPEs to several hospitals.

The Philippines has 2,084 COVID-19 cases as of yesterday afternoon, with 88 deaths and 49 recoveries. At least 17 of those who succumbed to the disease are doctors, and the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) said the lack of PPEs led to their deaths.

President Rodrigo Duterte said publicly that health workers who died in the line of duty are “lucky” because they died in the service of their country.

In response, PMA chairman Dr. Oscar Tinio told CNN Philippines in an interview, “Why do you have to let us die? When there are still ways that we can prevent it? It’s like war. We will fight, but don’t neglect us.”


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