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Limited oxygen supply and work-fatigued health personnel, hospital scrambles to provide healthcare to COVID-19 patients in Zamboanga Sibugay

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Dr. Sherwin Bastero, chief of hospital, said new COVID-19 patients keep coming in the hospital that is already reeling from limited supply of oxygen and most personnel, who have been in the forefront since the pandemic began last year, are exhausted. (DOH-9 CHD photo)

IPIL, Philippines

Amid the jungles of tubes and wheezing sounds of medical oxygen, the health workers of the COVID-19 wards of Zamboanga Sibugay Provincial Hospital, exhausted and suffering from work-fatigue, scramble to provide the patients, mostly unvaccinated, of the care they need.

Dr. Sherwin Bastero, chief of hospital, said new COVID-19 patients keep coming in the hospital that is already reeling from limited supply of oxygen and most personnel, who have been in the forefront since the pandemic began last year, are exhausted.

The hospital, he said, has already increased the number of beds of its COVID-19 ward from 29 to 85 beds to accommodate more patients, more than half of which are already occupied.

The province has logged a total of 2,889 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of September 14 with active cases at 560 – the highest so far for the province that was able to keep its cases low since last year.

Bastero told Rappler the hospital “lack manpower due to the increase in cases.”

He said the surge has also increased the demand for oxygen and put more pressure on hospital personnel, a number of whom have been “infected and quarantined, adding to shortage of staff.” The chief of hospital, however, declined to give the number of healthcare workers infected with the coronavirus.

To keep up with the need for oxygen, Bastero said, “we have daily trips to Zamboanga City to get our oxygen supply.”

The oxygen plants in Zamboanga City only allowed 30 to 40 oxygen tanks per day for each hospital, he disclosed.

All hospitals in the province are experiencing limited supply while the demand has increased, the hospital chief said.

He called on the public to help by observing health protocols and get vaccinated when it is their turn.

Bastero said of the 46 COVID-19 patients admitted in the hospital, all of them are 50 years old and above, 42 of them are unvaccinated.

Eleven of these unvaccinated patients have severe symptoms, he said.

The relentless rise of COVID-19 cases in the province has prompted the provincial government to implement stricter measures on the border.

Gov. Wilter Palma issued an executive order on September 8 requiring people entering the province to present negative results of their antigen tests.

The stricter measure, Palma said, may hurt the economy, especially the informal sector, “but we have to do it.”

There is no other way except to tighten our control over our border to stem the rise of COVID-19 cases, the governor said.

Zamboanga Sibugay shares a border in the east with Zamboanga del Sur; in the north with Zamboanga del Norte, and in the west with Zamboanga City. The top three in the region in terms of COVID-19 cases as of September 13, according to data from the Department of Health (DOH), are Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Zamboanga City. ###

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