Attacked & underpaid: Medics in Philippines battle stigma, virus

Joaquin Sapul, Jr started getting the frantic calls a few hours after the health department announced the first coronavirus case in Iloilo City in the central Philippines on March 21.

In response, The Medical City-Iloilo, the hospital where Sapul works and where the unnamed patient was confined, issued a statement to assure the public that stringent measures were in place to ensure the safety of the patient and their staff.
“At least six nurses were messaging and calling me, crying. Their landlords were evicting them. Some were being prevented from leaving their homes by their village captains,” said Sapul, a nurse and chief patient services officer at the hospital.

It was evening by the time Sapul had finished arranging temporary sleeping arrangements for the displaced workers. He was preparing to go home when he read a message from his own landlord, asking him to look for another place to live.

Sapul worked it out with his landlord after a lengthy explanation about rigid infection-control protocols and his own safety practices, but “it still hurt,” he said.

“We healthcare workers have always enjoyed the trust of our community. I underestimated how hysteria could make them turn on us so quickly,” said Sapul.

In the days that followed, hospital staff, including cleaners were told to vacate their homes, denied public transport or refused service in nearby eateries. One street stall hung up a sign saying that they would not serve hospital workers.

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