Mandatory Covid-19 testing for hospital admissions draws flak

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DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Neraya (not her real name) has to travel with her 12-year old daughter from Hagonoy, Davao del Sur to Davao City twice a month to treat her lupus through kidney dialysis and steroid medication in the government-ran Southern Philippine Medical Center.

Every trip costs Neraya, a working mother with two children, P3,000 for car rental to safely bring her daughter to Davao. She has to shell out more as a counterpart for the dialysis and medication.

But now Neraya is worried about the new policy in Davao City that requires Covid-19 tests for patients and watchers before admission to a hospital.

The policy was issued by Mayor Sara Duterte last September 28 through Executive Order 53 that requires mandatory RT-PCR tests for patients and watchers be taken within 24 to 48 hours before admission.

Private hospitals are “encouraged to make it a policy to request results” for walk-in patients while for emergency cases, the patient must be swabbed upon arrival at the hospital.

Non-Davao residents must have “prior endorsement by the referring hospital or doctor of all patients and their companions” which includes electronic copies of the test results to be presented to the hospital.

Individuals who refuse to undergo testing should be reported to the City Health Office and brought to a designated Covid-19 hospital as a suspected carrier.

The mayor explained that this policy is meant to protect health frontliners as Covid-19 is still spreading in the city, and mentioned some cases where infection was spread because of a carrier entering hospitals.

Added burden

But this policy has garnered criticisms, including Neraya who sees this as an added financial burden on top of spending for her daughter’s dialysis treatment.

“The dialysis alone is expensive, plus we also need to provide her different kinds of medicine for her immune system. This alone is a huge burden, the mandatory test will cost around P6, 000 each person. Where will I get such a huge amount now?” she said.

Another mother, Michelle, also expressed dismay as she is worried over her 8-year old daughter with congenital heart disease and severe asthma, which requires many visits to her cardiologists in preparation for her surgery.

Michelle wrote this comment on the City Government of Davao’s Facebook page where the new executive order was posted.

“It may serve as a good effort for our medical front liners but they should also consider the number of patients who can’t afford this test. What if my daughter suddenly has an asthma attack and we need to rush her to the hospital, should we need to take her first to COVID testing facility before giving her medicine and oxygen? I hope the mayor will consider,” she wrote.

Other netizens also criticized the policy.

“I understand that we must protect our frontliners; however, I wonder how many will be (unintentionally) killed by this. This will definitely convince many people to avoid check-ups as much as possible. How many simple ailments will become life-threatening? Is there a way for the Government of Davao to subsidize the costs of testing, especially for the very poor?” a post from Trafalgar Law says.

“…a person that needs surgery and a cancer patient that needs care I am not sure what is the priority of the government, Covid has lesser deaths than other diseases. Health care workers have their protective gears at all times and it is their responsibility to take care of themselves… but due to this rules all I can say government priority is more deaths to come.“ Lorna Reyash posted.

“Over-reach”

For Dr. Jack Estuart, former medical director of Brokenshire Hospital, the mayor’s order is “over-reaching”, saying hospitals can exercise discretion to formulate policies that are “evolving based on new understanding and the developing science and evidence.”

“An EO from the Mayor is a kind of overreach. We have to follow a dictate which might leave us with limited elbow room to adjust,” he said in an interview.

Dr. Estuart also demands that the mayor has to present data on her claim that Covid-19 was spread by patients who walked into private hospitals.

“She has information or data which we are not privileged to access, so we cannot completely see and understand the rationale for the EO,” he said. Kath M. Cortez/davaotoday.com

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