Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International today raised the alarm as a Filipino paramedic in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) died last Friday from the dreaded Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
Five other Filipino nationals are said to have tested positive for the virus in the oasis city of Al Ain located in the border of Oman and about 160 kilometers from UAE capital Abu Dhabi. The Filipino nationals, all paramedics, were said to have contracted the virus from routine check-ups.
The virus first originated from Saudi Arabia where at least 66 have already died. Other Middle East countries that have reported cases of infection include Kuwait, Oman and Qatar – all countries with a huge population of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
“It is not enough for the Philippine government to just warn OFWs of the virus, they have to be more pro-active and deploy medical personnel to attend to the needs of our OFWs, especially those stranded and lacking medical assistance and facilities in shelters and detentions centers,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.
According to Martinez, they are very concerned because even before the virus outbreak, stranded OFWs have already complained of the complete lack of medical assistance for OFWs and their children who have gone ill in shelters and detention centers in Saudi, Kuwait and Jordan.
He said that the stranded OFWs are very susceptible to illnesses because of their dire conditions. “They are exposed to the unbearable heat, have no access to PH posts for their sanitary needs, and are short on food, water and medicine.
Martinez also pointed out that the PH government should also put in place automatic medical assistance and check-ups for returning OFWs from the Middle East.
“Another cause for grave concern is that most OFWs who were repatriated from these countries are not being given automatic medical assistance by the government,” he said.
He cited the case of returned women OFWs from the Tent City in Jeddah last year who were forcibly made to leave the OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) office. “Ang banggit nila, sinabihan daw sila ng OWWA na hindi sila pwedeng manatili doon dahil mga undocumented sila. Iginiit pa natin na bigyan sila ng medical assistance dahil may mga sakit sila, pati mga bata. They were not given medical assistance by the OWWA,” he said.
One very sick OFW was brought to the Migrante office in Quezon City “because the OWWA merely gave her ordinary bus fare to go home to Mindanao. Wala man lang gamot, o kahit pangkain para sa maysakit. We had to fetch her up at the bus station because she could barely stand up,” Martinez said.
Martinez said that the lack of medical assistance for sick OFWs comes as “a big irony and insult especially after that the government has imposed a 160% increase in Philhealth premium for OFWs”. ###