Filipino hospitals are struggling to cope with more severe COVID-19 waves

© Reuters. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Philippines

By Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) – Nick Yañez, a 28-year-old nurse in a satellite city in Manila, says she sometimes spends six to seven hours in her emergency vehicle caring for a COVID-19 patient before a bed is found in one can hospital.

The Philippines has already seen one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia, and has seen a second wave of infections that are weighing on healthcare workers in the capital like never before.

“The situation is more serious now. This is version 2.0. The cases are higher, we are more exhausted,” said Yañez, whose ambulance operates in Pasig City.

The country has recorded an average of more than 10,400 COVID-19 cases per day since the beginning of April, almost twice as many as in March and well above the 213 per day in April 2020 and 2,169 in the second half of last year, according to data from the Department of Health showed.

A two-week closure of the capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities with at least 13 million inhabitants, seems to have done little to relieve the medical system.

Intensive care units in the Manila area are 84% busy, while 70% of COVID-19 ward beds and 63% of isolation beds were full as of April 19, government data showed.

In early April, when no hospital in Manila could accept him, COVID-19 patient Jaybee Garganera was driven to a hospital in Clark, Pampanga, 100 km from his home.

“I could hear her talking in the other room and every time she hung up the phone she sobbed,” Garganera said of his wife, who called hospitals all over Manila.

The Philippines has reported 945,745 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, infecting nearly 17,000 healthcare workers. Around 16,000 people have died so far.

Among the dead was Jayson Maulit’s 95-year-old great-grandmother, who died in an emergency room in Batangas Province on April 2 before she could be hospitalized.

“At every hospital we called, we were either put on the waiting list or were told they were full,” said Maulit, a small business owner.

The health minister said Friday that more than 1,400 beds would be added in the capital and more than 100 healthcare workers from other parts of the country would be drawn in to help.

Help is welcome for Encarnita Blanco-Limpin, a doctor at the Philippine Heart Center. However, she said that contact tracing needs to be improved and more vaccines need to be distributed to ease the burden on hospitals.

Almost 1.3 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine to date, and of the 140 million they want to procure, only 3 million doses enter the country.

“Our emergency room is 200% busy,” said Blanco-Limpin, who was recently infected with COVID-19. “Many of these coronavirus patients are not in bed, some are being treated while sitting.”

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