Philippine health workers protest neglect as Covid-19 strains hospitals

Healthcare workers march outside the University of Santo Tomas Hospital to call for the release of government funds to benefit health workers in Manila on Aug 30, 2021. PHOTO: EPA
Medical staff have been overwhelmed during the pandemic and 103 have died from Covid-19. PHOTO: REUTERS
Healthcare workers outside the Philippines' Department of Health, demanding better wages and benefits amid rising Covid-19 infections in Manila on Sept 1, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS) - Scores of healthcare workers protested in the Philippine capital on Wednesday (Sept 1) 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," Mr 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 deaths climb and cases soar with the highly transmissible Delta variant, like elsewhere in South-east Asia, where vaccination rates are low compared with Europe and North America.

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

Mr Duterte has stood by Mr Duque during repeated calls for his resignation as far back as last year, the latest after state auditors flagged "deficiencies" in more than US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) in Covid-19 spending.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.