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Protection for all health workers

The Hospitals Association indicated that the supplies needed to deal with the reported cases are currently available. But the Association recognizes that, in the face of a substantial increase in patients with COVID-19, these materials may be insufficient in the long term.

Healthcare workers who treat citizens with potential virus symptoms, as well as those who already treat hospitalized patients diagnosed with the virus, are the first line of emergency response. These human resources need to be well protected to keep life-saving alternatives high.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged industries to increase the production of gloves, masks, goggles, and gowns for health care professionals and their support staff. The agency has estimated that globally, pandemic response teams will need 89 million masks and 76 million gloves per month.

In Italy, the international organization Doctors Without Borders said that the lack of protective equipment for health professionals has been a factor associated with the infection of at least 1,700 workers, until last week.

The WHO noted that certain industrial and commercial sectors have increased the cost of protective materials. It has also condemned the unnecessary hoarding of such products, as well as their misuse. Until last week, the organization had distributed half a million of these kits to 47 countries, focusing on nations in Asia and Europe.

In Puerto Rico, doctors, nurses, and union groups representing health professionals have raised concerns about the essential availability and use of these materials. Besides physically protecting health care workers, their use provides them with the emotional peace of mind that they can safely manage the cases.

Being proactive on this core issue involves identifying funds and promptly routing the necessary purchase orders to make health protection products available in hospitals, health centers and other facilities that treat patients.

Amid this enormous health challenge, Puerto Rico requires fiscal priority to enable it to carry out a fast response to the emergency. Protective equipment, virus testing, medications and respirators for high-risk patients are a high priority. The Financial Oversight and Management Board announced that it authorized the use of $160 million from the Emergency Reserve. Other fiscal adjustments may be considered if necessary to contain the spread of the virus and save lives.

The pandemic, on the other hand, highlights once again the shortage of doctors and other health professionals on the island. The Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons estimates that, of 23,164 physicians in 2015, there were 10,609 in 2018. And this is very clear among lung disease specialists, who dropped from 95 to 44 in that period. And it also happened with the nursing staff. Officials estimate that there are only 30,000 currently working on the island. Today, Puerto Rico must take action to prevent further losses in this vital workforce.

Health professionals have shown great dedication and maximum responsibility in the face of the challenge of the spread of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico. Protecting them will strengthen the Puerto Rican response to the challenge of COVID-19, along with social responsibility and solidarity.  

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