Around the world, Filipino nurses and health care workers are known for their tender loving care and dedication to their professions. They have earned respect for their hard work and proficiency so much so that the first vaccine shot in this age of the pandemic was administered by a Filipina nurse working in London.
Nurses from the Philippines are a familiar sight in hospitals all over the globe. In fact, the country is the world’s top source of nurses. Nearly two in five of those who pass their nursing examinations are estimated to eventually go abroad.
But there lies the irony of it all.
At a time when we need them the most, our health care workers, most of them nurses, would rather walk away than work at home.
We can’t blame them. Underpaid and overworked, the lure of greener pastures abroad is just too hard to resist, particularly when one is the breadwinner in the family. An average staff nurse here earns only P630 a day, only P145 above the minimum wage in the Metro.
There is also the fact that Philippine hospitals are understaffed. According to a national study published in 2018, as many as three out of four local government units lack health workers.
The Philippines’ average nurse to population ratio is one is to 5,000. But in some geographically isolated areas, it is one to 20,000. Conditions got worse when the pandemic hit and Covid-positive nurses needed to be quarantined.
Amid the pandemic, these conditions have taken a toll.
Last April, the World Health Organization expressed alarm at the situation, as about 13 percent of the country’s Covid-19 cases were health care workers, compared with the region’s average of two to three percent.
A year later, 141 health workers in the country, according to Department of Health statistics. have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Shying away from patriotic duty obviously cannot be pinned on our so-called heroes at the frontlines. Most of them, we dare say, would rather work here to be with their families if only the conditions are right.
As it is, the pandemic has only exposed a health care system that is failing its health care workers.
Becoming a nurse, for example, is an investment of time and money in the first place.
Nursing is one of the most expensive courses that you can ever major in as you must invest in a board exam, gain two years of experience in a Philippine hospital, and pay additional fees such as for language exams if you plan to work in certain countries.
It can take a nurse anywhere between five and 10 years to qualify for work abroad. An estimated 13,000 nurses leave home for these jobs annually.
At the start of the pandemic last year, the government assured frontline workers that they would be given whatever they require to save lives. Sadly, a year into the health crisis, the health care workers continued to work under dangerous conditions, particularly after hospitals were deluged with Covid cases that threatened to overwhelm the health care system.
Lack of protective equipment, among others, was the biggest burden, according to them, in their fight against the deadly virus.
To alleviate the staff shortages, the government last April barred Filipino nurses from working overseas.
Thousands were stuck in limbo, sparking an outcry and forcing the government to hold public Zoom meetings with health care and migrant worker unions to explain its position. Howls of protests were heard, with some affected health care workers ruing the fact that they have served the country long enough, but that they also have to think of their families.
Among the conditions they wanted improved if they have to stay here is to upgrade the salary scales, benefits, proper protection and hazard pay.
Pay is not a new issue for our underpaid, overworked health care workers. They have fought for higher wages for almost two decades.
An administrative order to augment their income was signed recently to encourage more health care workers to serve on the frontline during the pandemic. But eight months after it was signed, nearly 20,000 health workers had yet to receive their hazard pay.
Like most laws meant to improve their plight, funding has become the main source of the problem.
We can’t blame our so-called frontline heroes from walking away, can we?
Credit belongs to : www.tribune.net.ph