No To Doctor Shaming: Cebu Governor Garcia skewered for scolding young GP online

<i>Video screengrab via Gwendolyn Garcia / FB</i>
Video screengrab via Gwendolyn Garcia / FB

Philippine Twitter was flooded with the hashtag #NotoDoctorShaming after Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia yesterday launched a publicly broadcast tirade directed at a doctor who criticized the province’s endorsement of tu-ob (steam therapy) to prevent COVID-19.

Provincial Administrator Noli Vincent Valencia issued a June 18 memorandum which urged all department heads and employees of the Cebu provincial government to perform tu-ob twice a day between 8am to 9am, and 4pm to 5pm at their workstations. The memo identified the steam therapy session as “a wellness program” for employees to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Tu-ob is a traditional form of healing where a person hunches over a basin of hot water while his head is draped with a blanket or towel. The patient then inhales the steam that rises from the liquid, and toxins are supposedly ejected from the body through sweat. Herbs, leaves, and tinctures with purported medicinal properties are sometimes added into the hot water.

It’s unclear if there’s any scientific basis that proves tu-ob is effective, but it remains widely practiced in Cebu.

Read: ‘Comfort’ or con? Despite money, education, well-off Filipinos turning to questionable treatments

In a livestream address from the provincial capitol last night, Governor Garcia decided to eviscerate a doctor from the University of Cebu Medical Center for criticizing her government’s endorsement of the folk treatment.

Garcia displayed a screenshot of Dr. Candy Krista Pilapil’s social media profile and the latter’s post where she questioned tu-ob’s effectiveness in preventing COVID-19. Pilapil said that putting false hopes in tu-ob might spell the death (“mahurot”) of the provincial capitol’s employees. She urged that “social distancing, frequent hand washing, and [the] wearing of mask[s]” is still the best way to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Unfortunately, Garcia took the advice, long been endorsed by the scientific community, as a swipe.

“Don’t worry about us. That’s all in my executive orders if you take the time to read…That is so unethical. A woman who took a Hippocratic oath saying our employees might be finished off,” Garcia told Pilapil.

Then the governor took things a little too personal.

“Are you the leader of a province? Go file for office and run in the next election. Maybe that will make people believe in you. Your platform and slogan? Anti-tuob kid,” she railed in English and Visayan.

Garcia also condescendingly pointed out that Pilapil had such had a firm stance on the subject while only having two years of experience. The governor then turned to the head of the provincial health office, Dr. Cristina Giango, who was sitting across her.

“Two years of experience, two years and already you’re harsh to criticize…This is our head of the IPHO [Integrated Provincial Health Office], she doesn’t have two years of experience, she has 34 years of experience,” Garcia rubbed in.

The governor maintained that tu-ob was a low cost and effective method to ward off various diseases and that it could be a useful remedy for asymptomatic patients and those with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has maintained that while “traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of mild COVID-19,” there are no medicines that have been shown to prevent or cure the disease.

The public skewering, as well as Garcia’s unwavering faith in the traditional healing practice, didn’t sit well with most Pinoys as well as the country’s health workers.

“I feel deeply hurt from all the criticisms doctors are getting for rectifying misconceptions about steam inhalation or ‘Tuob.’ Please don’t invalidate all our hardwork just because you think we only have a ‘two-year’ experience presently. We are not your enemy,” tweeted @mrxvelo.

One @GianMickael pointed out, “Madame Governor. Next time you shame a doctor on social media, remember where you would go when God forbid, it would be you who will be affected by a disease and that doctor w/ ‘2 years of experience’ as you say, will be the one between you and possible death.”

Meanwhile, @medtechspeaks wrote, “Doctors didn’t study medicine for more than 10 years just to be treated this way. The audacity of Gov. Gwen Garcia to shame a doctor just because that doctor expressed an opinion that tuob isn’t scientifically proven to cure covid. WTF!”

Read: No ‘magic pill’: Health official warns against self-medicating with dexamethasone

At present, there is still no known cure for COVID-19. Even a UK-based clinical trial on the drug dexamethasone, which has yielded promising results, leading WHO to dub it as a “lifesaving scientific breakthrough,” is still subject to scientific review.

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