BERN (MindaNews / 31 March) – I am conflicted with the recent news items saying that German and American hospitals and healthcare recruitment sites are urgently hiring nurses to add to their medical workforce.

Because the implications are clear: in a period of national medical emergency like now, the continued flow of nurses out of the Philippines can be fatal to the country. In such a critical period as now, the manpower drain will hugely contribute to the life-and-death situation that the Philippines now faces.

This site: claims there are openings in all 50 US states, and “Urgent Need” rates are being offered for medical surgery, ICU, and ambulatory registered nurses. A Filipino congressman, meanwhile, has urged the labor department to halt overseas deployment of Filipino nurses temporarily, in reaction to a news item that Germany was sending a plane to Manila to carry at least 75 intensive care unit nurses to take care of German COVID-19 patients.

The US and Germany cannot be faulted for hiring new nurses to their countries. They have been long-term employers for Filipinas looking for better work conditions and higher incomes. What these western powers are at fault, however, is taking much-needed medical professionals from the home country during this crisis period. It is like the proverbial taking food away from the hungry hand.

I am not the only one in conflict on this issue. Our Filipino nurses are. Jocelyn Andamo, the secretary general of the Filipino Nurses United, told ANC today that contrary to popular thought, not all Filipino nurses want to work abroad. Many choose not to leave their families and to serve their country.

What Jocelyn is asking government is just compensation for the local nurses, and – for this emergency – extra benefits such as hazard pay. And also the requisite PPE, because they will avoid the unnecessary contamination and likely deaths of our nurses.

And may I also add: for our people to give human and compassionate treatment for our nurse frontliners, who are now being ostracized out of ignorance over COVID-19. Our nurses diligently perform protocol to protect themselves and others from being infected. Why are they being shunned or cast out of their rented homes as irresponsible carriers of the disease? What ungrateful treatment for the sacrifices that our nurses (and our doctors and other medical frontliners, for that matter) do every day!

But now to go back to my question: should the Philippines still allow our nurses to leave? The timing is critical and the answer crucial.

Let me offer a compromise, based on my layman terms: Why not allow those nurses already with guaranteed contracts and employment to leave? They have already made the choice to seek greener pastures, and even if they have doubts now, they have invested so much in following their decision. If they opt out now from their contract, then that should be voluntary. But those nurses on confirmed agreements such as TripleWin between the Philippines and Germany should be allowed to leave, if the visa or other restrictions are now being let up.

But let there be no more new hirings for the period of this pandemic. The Philippines is already losing too many doctors and nurses in the early phase of this pandemic and the country needs its workforce. Giving just compensation and extra benefits, along with providing them the requisite PPEs, may be enough to make our nurses stay at this critical period.

[Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao City and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps.]