OFWs not barred from going to Zika areas
The deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Brazil and 27 other Latin American countries affected by the mosquito-borne Zika virus continues despite the rapid spread of the virus blamed for brain damage in babies.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the deployment had not been suspended in the absence of alert levels issued by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
“(N)o alert levels have been issued by the DOH and DFA,” Baldoz said in a text message. “So there’s no deployment ban to those countries, as of today.”
But the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) head said both the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, both DOLE-attached agencies, had included the Zika virus in their predeparture seminars for Filipino migrant workers.
In the seminars, OFWs are provided with information such as employment concerns, travel regulations, immigration procedures and cultural differences between the Philippines and migrant workers’ host countries.
South America accounted for just 2,832 OFWs in 2013 of the more 10 million Filipinos working and living overseas, according to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.
The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier declared a global emergency over the spread of the Zika virus in Latin America and its suspected link to the surge of babies born with microcephaly, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development and abnormally small heads.
WHO estimates there could be up to 4 million cases of Zika in the Americas by next year.
A Reuters report said the confirmed cases of newborns with abnormally small heads linked to the virus had reached 4,074 as of Jan. 30.
A spike in the number of Brazilian babies born with brain defects and abnormally small heads has been linked to their mother’s contracting the virus during pregnancy.
The DOH has advised pregnant women to avoid visiting places where there had been reported cases of the disease.
“The Zika virus per se is not alarming to the patient. What is alarming is the possible effects to the fetus during the first three months of pregnancy,” Health Secretary Janette Garin said.
Garin said the government remained vigilant against the disease since the mosquito carrying the virus was present in the Philippines.
In Washington, the Philippine Embassy on Thursday issued an advisory, urging members of the Filipino-American community in the United States to take caution against the Zika virus.
“Members of the Filipino-American community are further advised to learn more about the Zika virus disease—its cause, symptoms, methods of transmission, preventive measures and confirmed cases—by visiting the websites of the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” the Philippine Embassy said in an advisory posted on its website.
The Philippine government, through the DOH, earlier advised its citizens to remember and use ‘4S’ against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases.
The 4S means “Search & destroy mosquito-breeding places, use Self-protection measures, Seek early consultation for fever lasting more than two days and Say ‘yes’ to fogging when there is an impending outbreak.”
The Philippine Embassy noted that cases of Zika infections had been reported in the United States, where 31 Americans in 11 states and Washington were reportedly diagnosed with Zika infection contracted while traveling abroad.
On Feb. 2, the CDC confirmed the first known case of local transmission in the continental United States in this latest outbreak.
WHO has not recommended the imposition of any travel, trade, or screening restrictions related to the Zika virus disease.
“However, it is advised that travelers going to and coming from countries with known Zika virus cases maintain a high level of vigilance and self-care,” said the Philippine Embassy.
An estimated 3.4 million Americans tracing their ancestry to the Philippines live in the United States.
At least six state hospitals in the Philippines would be attending to suspected cases by next week, according to the DOH.
The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City, one of the medical facilities, can accommodate patients who show symptoms of Zika infection, which usually begins three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
The common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, headache and vomiting.
In Manila, the city government on Thursday assured residents that its six public hospitals were equipped to handle possible cases of the Zika virus.
In a statement, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada instructed all city-run hospitals through their overall coordinator, Dr. Regina Bagsic, to “be prepared for any eventuality [of the Zika virus] and ensure the provision of free, prompt and complete health and medical services to all Manileños.”
The hospitals are Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center, Justice Abad Santos Mother and Child Hospital, Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center, Sta. Ana Hospital, Ospital ng Sampaloc and Ospital ng Tondo.
Dr. Benjamin Yson, head of the Manila Health Department that oversees the city’s health centers, said his office had taken precautionary action against the mosquito-borne disease by conducting fumigation and maintaining cleanliness in barangays.
“We want to make sure that our communities are clean to eliminate the presence of mosquitoes,” Yson said.
“[But] self-protection is key. Avoid wearing short clothing and apply mosquito repellent [lotions],” he added. With a report from Annelle Tayao-Juego
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