Health workers protest neglect as COVID-19 strains hospitals

September 1, 2021 - 4:16 PM
Healthcare workers hold a protest outside the Philippines' Department of Health, demanding better wages and benefits amid rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Manila, Philippines, September 1, 2021. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

MANILA — Scores of healthcare workers protested in the Philippine capital on Wednesday to demand an end to what they called government neglect and unpaid benefits, as pressure builds at hospitals fighting one of Asia’s longest-running coronavirus epidemics.

Protesters wearing protective medical gear gathered around the Department of Health (DOH) and held placards demanding their risk allowances and hazard pay, and the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque.

Medical staff have been overwhelmed during the pandemic and 103 have died from COVID-19, among some 33,400 coronavirus fatalities in the Philippines.

“It is sad that many of us have died, many of us became sick, and many have resigned or opted to retire early, yet we are still kneeling before the DOH to give us our benefits,” Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Health Workers, said from the back of a pickup truck.

President Rodrigo Duterte gave health and budget ministries 10 days from Aug. 21 to pay health workers, following nurses’ threats to resign and unions warning of strikes.

“The government promised it will give the benefits today but up to now, it has not. I pity us because we are the ones begging,” said nurse Nico Oba.

The Philippine Nurses Association held its own protest virtually to demand better working conditions and more hospital staff.

Many facilities are overstretched as the highly transmissible Delta variant sees deaths climb and cases soar, like elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where vaccination rates are low compared to Europe and North America.

The Philippines was the first country outside China to report a coronavirus death and has since logged nearly 2 million cases, including a daily record 22,366 on Monday.

Duterte has stood by Duque during repeated calls for his resignation as far back as last year, the latest after state auditors flagged “deficiencies” in more than $1 billion in COVID-19 spending. —Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty