Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved ending a ban on deployment of health care workers overseas amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the labour minister said on Saturday, clearing the way for thousands of nurses to take up jobs abroad.
“The president already approved the lifting of the temporary suspension of deployment of nurses and other medical workers,” Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III told Reuters.
However, the labour secretary added, to ensure that the country, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia will have enough medical professionals to fight the pandemic, only 5,000 health care workers will be allowed to leave each year.
“We are starting only with a cap of 5,000 so we will not run out (of medical workers), but this may increase eventually,” Bello said.
Bello said the spread of the novel coronavirus was slowing down in the country and conditions were improving, so the government could afford to let its healthcare workers leave.
Last year, almost 17,000 nurses signed overseas work contracts data from the Commission on Higher Education and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration shows.
The government in April barred nurses, doctors and other medical workers from leaving, saying they were needed to fight the coronavirus crisis at home.
Thousands of health workers, who call themselves “priso-nurses,” had appealed to the government to let them take jobs abroad, Reuters reported in September. The nurses say they feel underpaid, under-appreciated and unprotected in the Philippines.
While the lifting of the travel ban was a “welcome development,” Maristela Abenojar, President of Filipino Nurses United, challenged the government to make true its commitment to give its nurses better pay and benefits if it wants them to stay.
Filipino health workers are on the front lines of the pandemic at hospitals in the United States, Europe and the Middle East as well as at home.
New coronavirus cases in the Philippines have remained below 2,000 since Nov. 10, while deaths, which totalled 8,025 as of Nov. 20 only equal 1.93% of the country’s 415,067 cases.
Hospital bed occupancy has also eased from critical levels, and the government has been gradually easing quarantine restrictions to jumpstart the coronavirus-hit economy. (Source: INQUIRER.net)