PPE ‘overpriced’? They’re ‘most complete,’ unlike donations, says DOH
MANILA, Philippines — The one million sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) that the Department of Health (DOH) has bought for health workers attending to patients infected with the new coronavirus are “overpriced” by as much as P1.4 billion, according to Sen. Grace Poe.
In a statement, Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said on Tuesday the PPE were being sold for as low as P400.
The government could have saved at least P800 million had the DOH purchased inexpensive gear with the same quality as the pricier sets, she said.
Judicious use of funds
“Like what President Duterte said, this is not the time of committing abuses. That’s why I’m appealing to the DOH to coordinate closely with the local manufacturers selling cheaper PPEs,” Poe said.
“Confronting an extraordinary public health crisis requires prompt response but in doing so, let us not forget the need for the judicious use of fund releases,” she said.
“Every peso that we will save during this period may be used for other programs of the government to help those who are most in need of financial assistance and food supplies every day,” Poe said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday announced that the DOH had already procured P1.8 billion worth of PPE.
Health workers in many hospitals, some of them using plastic garbage bags and bottles for improvised PPE, have been desperately appealing for protective gear in view of the many doctors and others who had caught the virus, including several who had died.
Duque has been under fire for his department’s alleged failure to lay out proactive plans to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the acute respiratory disease which has killed 88 people in the country since January.
Different kinds of PPE
Responding to the allegations of overpriced PPE, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said PPE were not all the same, and some were used for more risky work than others.
What the DOH purchased was the “most complete” set, not similar to those donated to medical front-liners by private groups or by the Office of the Vice Presdent (OVP).
“There are different kinds of PPEs depending on the risk setting. There are those used for triage, points of entry, collection of specimens, transport of patients, and care of suspected and confirmed patients,” Vergeire said.
“We have eight types of PPEs in one set. That’s why each set amounted to P1,800,” she added.
Each PPE procured by the DOH consists of an N95 mask, coveralls, gloves, head cover, shoe cover, goggles, surgical mask and surgical gown.
Fresh hospital supplies
About 200,000 of them are expected to arrive from April 1 to April 6, followed by a second batch of 700,000 to be delivered onward to April 24.
The Office of Civil Defense will receive the shipments and will help the DOH distribute them to hospitals designated for COVID-19 and for others.
Vergeire said 14 more hospitals received fresh supplies of PPE on Monday but did not say how many sets.
These are the Philippine Orthopedic Center, East Avenue Medical Center, Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, Divine Grace Medical Center, Philippine Oncology Center Corp., Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Center, Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital, Medical Center Parañaque, Pasig Doctors Medical Center, Metropolitan Doctors Association, St. Benedict Dialysis Center, Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines and St. Camillus Medical Center.
The OVP early last month found PPE worth about P378.37 per set from a local supplier.
The items in each set were nearly identical with the DOH’s PPE — an N95 mask, a gown, or protective suit, two sets of gloves, two pieces of head cover, two sets of shoe cover and one pair of goggles.
Robredo’s office had distributed more than 32,000 PPE to front-liners in over 100 hospitals and communities in Metro Manila and several provinces in Luzon, with money from a fund drive with one of its private partners, Kaya Natin! Movement.
The fundraising campaign had raised at least P39.3 million as of Tuesday, including a P6-million contribution from the OVP, which would also provide food and care packages for health workers.
In addition, a group of fashion designers that volunteered its services to the OVP has started to produce more protective suits for hospital staff battling COVID-19, Robredo said.
She said the design of the suit, a hooded coverall, was reviewed and approved by a group based in Berkeley, California, that had a medical team which reviewed open source medical supplies worldwide.
That group suggested using Tyvek fabric, but it was hard to find it locally. So after consultation with Dr. Jesus Julio Ancheta, an infectious disease specialist, the designers decided to use taffeta silver black lining, which was first used by designer Joey Socco.
The final design was made by the designers’ group led by Mich Dulce, a London-trained fashion designer, activist and singer. Much of her recent work focuses on hats and corsets for women. She is also the founder of Grrrl Gang Manila, a feminist collective aiming to create safe spaces for women online and offline.
“It took us more than 48 hours of going back and forth and this afternoon, finally, our prototype has been approved!” Robredo wrote on her personal Facebook page on Sunday.
“We can go full steam into production now,” she added.
Robredo said the current pattern was made for a large person, but the designers were already making smaller suits. They will also make a two-piece version that will be more convenient for bathroom breaks.
“The pattern is for everyone’s consumption,” she said. “We will be producing in bulk but you can all have your local ‘mananahis’ (tailors) to make them for your own health front-liners, especially those in the provinces,” she said.
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