DOH-12 assures it can handle Ebola, MERS-CoV

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 November) — The Department of Health (DOH) in Region 12 assured on Thursday it was ready in case the deadly Ebola Virus and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) entered the area.

Dr. Teogenes Baluma, DOH Region 12 director, said Thursday said they have established mechanisms to ensure the proper monitoring and handling of possible Ebola and MERS-CoV cases, especially among returning Overseas Filipino Workers.

He said they have linked up with airports and other point of entries near the region for the tracking of returning OFWs from countries with recorded outbreaks of the two diseases.

Baluma said they have designated the Cotabato Regional Medical Center in Cotabato City as treatment facility for possible Ebola and MERS-CoV cases that would emerge in the area.

Also known as Soccsksargen, Region 12 comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared parts of northwest Africa and the Middle East as hotspots for Ebola and MERS-CoV, respectively.

The country has so far remained free of Ebola and MERS-CoV.

Baluma said their monitoring covers returning OFWs who were deployed in the identified disease hotspots and residents who have travelled to and near these areas.

He specifically cited returning Muslim faithful who recently travelled to the Middle East for the annual Hajj or Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

“We are carefully checking their health records and keep track of their travel plans for immediate tracing in case something comes up,” he said in a radio interview.

He said countries of origin of the returning overseas workers and travellers issue health certificates before they are allowed to travel.

The health certificates are issued after they properly pass the tests for the two diseases based on standards set by the WHO.

But for Ebola, Baluma said returning OFWs and travellers are still required to undergo 21 days of mandatory quarantine following arrival in the country.

Those returning from the Middle East are free to proceed to their destinations once they are cleared by DOH monitors at the airport for possible MERS-CoV infection, he said.

In September, the region had a brief scare with suspected MERS-CoV after a nurse from South Cotabato who returned home from Saudi Arabia was reported to have contracted the disease.

The nurse, who hails from Banga town, and her family were immediately quarantined at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City but eventually turned out negative of MERS-CoV. (MindaNews)