NAIA workers protecting selves from MERS-CoV on their own
MANILA, Philippines — Most of the country’s frontliners in welcoming arrivals at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) are spending for their own protection against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV).
The most the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) claimed it has done has been to counsel its employees to practice basic hygiene particularly when dealing with passengers. Something that the personnel denied.
“It’s better this way than risk getting infected,” a 27-year-old security guard, assigned to one of the arrival concourses of the NAIA, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
She was wearing a face mask and had disinfectant, both of which she said she bought on her own, although she said that it would be appreciated if the MIAA took the initiative of distributing protective gear to frontliners at the airport.
Even members of the airport police department were not told of the risk in being among the NAIA’s frontliners.
It was learned that a day after the Department of Health (DOH) announced that a 36-year-old foreigner from the Middle East had tested positive for MERS, the MIAA did not inform its employees of the development, apparently trusting that they would find out through the media.
A 33-year-old janitor at the NAIA replied in the negative when asked by the Inquirer if the sanitation office employees were briefed on the possibility that the MERS-infected patient could have gone through the airport and on precautionary measures they should take.
“I did not know that,” he confided, adding, “We were not even reminded to be careful in dealing with arrivals.”
A 43-year-old janitress, who has been with the NAIA for more than 10 years and who did hear about the MERS-CoV case, said that the last time that MIAA actually distributed protective gear like surgical masks was way back in 2009 during the influenza A (H1N1) outbreak.
Influenza A (H1N1) is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus, which mutated from four different strains of the virus in pigs, humans and birds.
“I wish the MIAA would issue us gear to somehow protect us from MERS. We can’t continue to spend for our own protection considering we earn little enough as it is,” she remarked.
Asked if the MIAA employees have been provided health benefits she said, “If they can’t even afford to buy us protective gear, they will not even think of providing us with health cards.”
She pointed out that it would be a great public service and a relief for airport employees if the DOH would disclose the flight boarded by the MERS-Cov infected patient.
“They would not have to go to all the trouble of looking for the passengers in the same plane because they themselves would volunteer to be tested and NAIA employees who might have had contact with the foreigner will know and get tested,” she explained.
David De Castro, spokesperson of MIAA general manager Jose Angel Honrado, said the NAIA has been on heightened alert since June 9 based on an official guidance from the Bureau of Quarantine.
The memorandum circular from the bureau directed all of the country’s airports, including the NAIA, to heighten surveillance and strictly screen all arriving and departing passengers and flight crew.
“The circular instructs quarantine officials at the NAIA to issue health checklists and notices to passengers. Health officers as well are to operate thermal scanners at the arrival areas of the airport,” De Castro said.
Aircraft commanders are directed to report passengers showing flu-like symptoms or any health emergency to health officers at the NAIA.
Asked if the MIAA plans to distribute safety gear such as masks and gloves to its employees for their protection against MERS-CoV, he said, “There is no official instruction yet for employees but they are advised to practice basic hygiene, such as the washing of hands, covering their mouth, especially whenever dealing with passengers.” SFM
(With a report from Christine Rhea Lectura, intern)