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

Health workers in Laguna forced to DIY PPEs. Photo: Tes Depano/FB
Health workers in Laguna forced to DIY PPEs. Photo: Tes Depano/FB

Well, Congressman Alan Peter Cayetano has pissed off the internet again — though, in fairness, it turns out this time he didn’t necessarily deserve it.

After being the subject of near-universal criticism over last year’s highly disorganized Southeast Asian Games (which will forever be remembered for their numerous snafus, and overpriced, single-use cauldron), the leader of the House of Representatives was again widely lambasted after being incorrectly accused of dismissing reports of a shortage of personal protective equipment (or PPEs) in hospitals in the Philippines as “fake news.”

See, local media outlet Rappler initially quoted Cayetano as saying: “There is a lot of fake news. You know who is spreading fake news about a shortage of PPEs.”

The seemingly outrageous statement prompted, well, outrage from numerous sources (including us here at Coconuts) given the widespread, and credible reports of hospitals struggling with limited supplies.

A few hours later, however, Rappler issued a correction, saying they misquoted Cayetano, who had in fact apparently been making a somewhat more complex point about misdirected donations, suggesting that false reports of PPE shortages where there are none were making matters worse for those dealing with actual shortages.

Cayetano’s full statement was: “There’s a lot of fake news. You know those people spreading fake news, those who say there aren’t enough PPEs or personal protective equipment in a place? I feel bad if you spread fake news, I feel bad for those who really don’t have enough [PPEs].”

“It’s bad for the [areas] who are truly lacking. It’s bad for people who are actually experiencing a shortage. People now don’t know where to give,” he added.

(Our bad, Al.)

For the record, however, it should be noted that legitimate reports of PPE shortages abound. Just look at St. Jude Family Hospital in Los Baños, Laguna, whose medical workers were forced to use garbage bags, plastic bags, and other bits of plastic in the absence of PPEs, just so they could take care of patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos of the three medical workers were posted late last week by Tes Depano, another hospital employee. In her now-viral post, Depano asked the Department of Health’s help by supplying them with PPEs.

She wrote in her post, which has been shared almost 13,000 times, “We have run out of PPEs in our hospital and we can’t find a supplier to buy them from. So we had to improvise just so our staff could be protected. Thank you for the courage and dedication of our staff in helping our patients.”

In a Facebook interview with Coconuts Manila, Depano said, “Some of our staff wore proper PPEs, but because we have run out, three of our personnel had to wear trash bags because we could no longer get any PPEs.”

Depano said PPEs are disposable: a healthcare worker has to wear a new one each shift to ensure he isn’t infected by COVID-19. While some concerned people have sent them PPEs, masks, and disinfecting alcohol, their supply has run out because of the sheer number of patients they had to attend to.

She added they might be able to get some more PPEs today, but with the number of COVID-19 cases rising daily, a steady supply of medical equipment is necessary.

And it’s not just St. Jude that is facing shortages. Two Metro Manila public hospitals, the Lung Center of the Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital, are asking the public to donate PPEs and masks. The same goes for hospitals in Marikina and nearby Antipolo City.

So, just to be clear, the outrage may have been misdirected, but make no mistake: the problem is real. So far hundreds of doctors and nurses have already been quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19, and at least five have died since the local outbreak began.


Have you heard of other hospitals that were forced to DIY  their protective gear? Tell us by leaving a comment below or tweeting to @CoconutsManila.


CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated that House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano had dismissed reports of PPE shortages as “fake news.” Cayetano had actually been making a different point about misdirected donations. The quotes and their characterization have been amended to accurately reflect the congressman’s remarks. Coconuts Manila apologizes for any confusion caused.

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