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DOH says sending of OFWs to Ebola-stricken countries stopped

The Department of Health (DOH) this week has reported that it was in the process of tracking Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s) in Ebola stricken countries, and is readying the protocol to repatriate them, if necessary.

However, it was also reiterated that the Philippines is still Ebola-free.

Secretary of Health Enrique Ona, in an official statement, said that in the three West African countries where there are outbreaks of Ebola, OFWs are coordinating with their recruitment agencies in assessing their risk from the disease. These are the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Secretary Ona added that DOH is not letting its guard down on the possible entry of Ebola, or any emerging infectious disease (EID) for that matter.

As the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised Alert Level Status 2 among the three affected countries, the deployment of OFWs with new contracts has been suspended. Proper coordination of Philippine labor officials (DOLE, POEA, OWWA) is now being undertaken with the DFA and the Bureau of Immigration (BI), for possible repatriation.

Once repatriated, the DOH, through the Bureau of Quarantine (BoQ) will determine the status of returning Filipinos upon arrival and refer symptomatic cases to the appropriate health facilities for clinical care. Asymptomatic individuals will be closely monitored daily by the Health Emergency Management Staff (HEMS) of the DOH.

So far, an initial 20 OFWs from Sierra Leone were repatriated by their recruitment agency back to the Philippines. The agency had informed OWWA of the dates of their arrival (from June 26 to July 15, 2014) and OWWA had subsequently informed the BOQ.

Close daily monitoring by DOH-HEMS of symptoms continues to take place among these OFWs. Regional health officials are on standby to facilitate the conduct and admission of possible suspected cases to the nearest DOH hospitals or medical centers.

Ebola is a severe, infectious, often fatal disease in humans and primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) caused by infection from the Ebola virus.

Ebola can be transmitted through close contact with: blood secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals, body fluids and stools of an infected person, through contaminated needles and soiled linen used by infected patients, or direct contact with the body a deceased person

Signs and symptoms of infection with Ebola virus include: fever, headache, intense weakness, joint and muscle pains, and sore throat; this is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding; sometimes, rash, red eyes, hiccups, and bleeding from body openings may be seen in some patients.

The DOH advised suspected cases to be taken immediately to the nearest health facility for medical attention. Severe cases require intensive supportive care. At present, there is no specific treatment or vaccine yet available.

According to Ona, the most at risk to contract Ebola infection are health care and laboratory workers who may be exposed to secretions and specimens from infected individuals. Family members and those in close contact with those who are sick can also become infected.

Prevention measures include: 1) avoid close contact with infected patients; 2) avoid consumption of the raw meat of possible infected animals like fruit bats, monkeys or apes; 3) wear gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment when taking care of ill patients at home; 4) wash hands after visiting sick relatives in the hospital and after taking care of ill patients at home.

Ebola, which has already taken the lives of almost 5,000 victims in the three West African countries, has already crossed over to the United States. A patient in Texas who just came from Liberia had died, infecting two nurses.

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