Ona on MERS: Nat’l ID system needed to track victims faster
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – When the Department of Health (DOH) needed to track the passengers of a Middle East plane who might have carried the MERS virus, it took them a full week to do so.
And to think they all had to be tested immediately and quarantined if necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.
If only the Philippines had a national identification (ID) system in place, the health department could have reached the possible patients immediately, DOH Secretary Enrique Ona said on Wednesday, April 30.
Ona was at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) for a surprise inspection of the region’s designated isolation hospital for suspected victims of viral diseases. He earlier also checked on the newly upgraded Amay Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi City and several other hospitals in Misamis Oriental.
Ona said the DOH took a full week to reach the almost 400 passengers of Etihad Airways Flight EY 0424, which landed in Manila on April 15 from the United Arab Emirates. It carried an overseas Filipino worker who initially tested positive of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Coronavirus and whom the DOH quarantined for 5 days with his family.
Ona said that one week was too long, and a government-run ID system would have helped speed up the tracking since it would have all the updated information on every Filipino. (FAST FACTS: The MERS Coronavirus)
Looking for 10 more
The DOH has since contacted and tested almost 400 of the co-passengers, and they, including the suspected virus carrier OFW, have so far tested negative. Ten co-passengers have yet to be tracked, however.
“We know their names, we know where they came from, but we don’t know where to look for them,” Ona said.
In Northern Mindanao, 6 passengers on the Etihad flight had been cleared of the MERS virus. They were traced by the staff of DOH Region X and had all tested negative.
“We don’t have a health attaché in countries affected by the MERS, so we sent [epidemiologists and medical specialists] to study and make coordination to protect our citizens,” Ona said.
Special medical centers
The health secretary said the government is nevertheless doing its best to prepare regional medical centers to effectively respond to any viral outbreak.
The MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus is a highly fatal, influenza-like illness characterized by fever, cough, and often with diarrhea.
As of Saturday, April 26, the World Health Organization reported 261 laboratory-confirmed cases of infections, 93 of which resulted in death, worldwide.
A 41-year-old Filipina nurse died of MERS on August 29, 2013, while another OFW reportedly died of the virus last April 10. Despite this, the Philippines is still MERS-free, a health official said on Tuesday, April 29.
But the government is ready for any scenario, Ona said, “excluding what we see in the movies.”
Aside from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City, there is the Vicente Sotto Memorial Hospital in Cebu for the testing of blood samples, he said.
Results of tests should be ready 12 hours after samples are extracted.
Ona added that protocols for the prevention of the spread of viral diseases are in place. (READ: MERS alert: 11 things OFWs should do) – Rappler.com