April 21, 2014
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that specializes in labor and migration issues, urged the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Employment to tap the recruitment and travel industry as well as providers of pre-departure orientation seminars (PDOS) in providing information about MERS-CoV, or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus to all Middle East-bound overseas workers.
OFW advocate Susan Ople who heads the policy center noted that around 3,000 to 4,000 Filipinos leave the country daily to work overseas, with a high percentage of these workers bound for the Middle East.
“The government can brief all licensed recruitment agency owners and PDOS providers specializing in the Middle East market about MERS-CoV so that such information can be incorporated in the mandatory pre-departure briefings for OFWs,” Ople said.
The Center said priority for such health briefings could be given to Middle East-bound OFWs who will be working in the medical field and allied services. “Most government hospitals in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries continue to employ Filipino nurses and hospital staff. It would be prudent to include information about MERS-CoV in their pre-departure seminars as a mandatory topic.”
She pointed out that prevention remains to be the best tool considering that health experts particularly from the World Health Organization are still studying the dreaded virus.
Ople commended the Department of Health for spearheading an information campaign on MERS-CoV among OFWs and their families. “By providing our overseas workers and their families with timely information, the government is actually allaying their fears and anxieties.”
She urged the DoH to put up a hotline for queries about MERS-CoV from families with relatives in the Middle East, some of whom may be returning home soon.
The non-government organization expressed its intention to help the DoH in its information campaign through social media and in partnership with Filipino community leaders across the Middle East.
“Already, MERS-CoV has claimed the life of a Filipino worker in the United Arab Emirates. We are all in this together, and the Philippines must not be the weakest link in curbing this dreaded virus,” the labor advocate said.
The World Health Organization said MERS-CoV has so far infected 243 worldwide and killed 93 since March 2012.
The DFA and DOH released the following guidelines for protection against the disease:
1. Practice proper hand hygiene always, by washing your hands with soap or hand rubs with alcohol before and after eating; before and after handling, cooking and preparing food; after coughing, sneezing and using the toilets; and before and before and after touching animals.
2. Practice proper cough etiquette by covering your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing. Use a facial tissue when coughing or sneezing and cover your mouth and nose with it. Dispose the tissue in a waste basket.
3. Avoid contact with farm and domesticated animals, including camels.
4. Avoid contact with sick or infected with MERS-CoV. If you have respiratory illness, stay home and wear a surgical mask to protect your family members.
5. If you are a health worker, strictly follow infection control protocols in your work.
6. Visit your doctor, a hospital or health facility immediately if symptoms of MERS-CoV manifest itself, including, persistent coughing, and other.
7. If you were in close contact with a confirmed MERS-CoV patient, comply with local health regulations and postpone any trip abroad until after test results are negative.
8. Practice healthy habits such as regular exercise, balanced and nutritional diet, and adequate sleep of at least eight hours, as it would help strengthen the body’s immunity.