It is with a sense of urgency that we are all gathered here today. We are now facing one of the most dangerous public health threats in recent history.
With no known cure at present, Ebola virus disease has affected more than 8,000 individuals, of which almost 4,000 died since March 2014. The countries most affected, namely, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, are hard-pressed in containing the disease. These countries, torn by internal strife, have systemic weaknesses in their health systems and severe shortages in health human resources.
Ebola does not recognize national boundaries. From West Africa, cases have been noted in Spain and the United States. Last September, the first case of Ebola in the United States was admitted into a Texas hospital and immediate quarantine measures were instituted for his family and close contacts. A male Liberian national had inadvertently been exposed to Ebola and had traveled asymptomatic to the United States during the disease’s incubation period. An initial consult in the same hospital where he was admitted failed to trigger the implementation of appropriate infection control measures. The patient had then exposed immediate family and potentially dozens of other anonymous contacts to his illness.Just the other day, this first case of Ebola in the USA had passed away after receiving intensive supportive care and an experimental antiviral drug in a fully equipped and adequately staffed hospital in Dallas, Texas. It is important to emphasize though that the patient did not receive treatment until several days after he manifested the initial symptoms and this could have contributed to his rapid decline and demise.
This tragic example highlights our need to strengthen our resolve to fight this disease and ensure that proper screening and containment measures are in place.
We therefore cannot afford to be complacent about Ebola. But at the same time, undue fear will only worsen the situation.
We believe that the best remedy against panic and hysteria is to ensure that the public is well-informed not only of the disease, its prevention and supportive treatment but also of the actions of the government to ensure that the Philippines remains Ebola-free.
I assure you that the national government has put in enough resources to deal with this public health threat.
The Department of Health has prescribed interim guidelines for the prevention or minimization of entry and spread of Ebola virus disease. Travelers entering the Philippines coming from affected countries shall undergo screening by our Bureau of Quarantine. The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Lung Center of the Philippines and the San Lazaro Hospital, as well as two other DOH hospitals outside Metro Manila, are prepared to receive and treat symptomatic cases. Contact tracing for possible exposed individuals will be implemented to minimize the spread of Ebola if ever this disease reaches our shores.
Pointers for our Filipino UN Peacekeepers and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to ensure their health security have been provided. We are working with the Departments of Labor and Employment, National Defense and Foreign Affairs to ensure that any repatriation, if warranted, of our OFWs or peacekeepers from affected countries will be implemented with the least difficulty.
We are increasing the biosafety level (or BSL) of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, from its current BSL 2 to BSL 3 or even 4. A BSL 3 facility is able to contain severe and lethal pathogens and prevent its spread outside the facility. Meanwhile, a BSL 4 facility can contain lethal and infectious diseases with which no treatment or vaccine is available at present. It will entail the construction of a new building that will cost almost half a billion pesos.
The capacity of our health workers to treat Ebola will be enhanced if they are afforded a first hand experience in the prevention, detection and treatment of Ebola. As a matter of fact, this experience will be helpful if ever the Philippines will have Ebola cases in the future.There is a global call for humanitarian assistance, especially health workers.
Again, I assure you, the government is constantly monitoring the international Ebola situation. Prevention and containment measures are ready. Yet, our efforts will be strengthened by the full cooperation support and understanding of the entire medical community, other sectors and the general public.
The theme of today’s summit, “One Nation, One Direction Against Ebola Virus Disease”, emphasizes the need for unity and support among all stakeholders to ensure the success of our proposed National Plan of Action Against Ebola. Let this summit be an opportunity for us in the different government agencies, the medical community, the private sector, media and other sectors to discuss and suggest ways to improve what we have defined this proposed plan of action.
Let us all work together for an Ebola-free Philippines.
Thank you very much and good morning to all of you.