Insensitivity and not breach of protocol in the visit to Caballo Island

Military and health officials mingling with the quarantined soldiers in Caballo Island.

Military and health officials mingling with the quarantined soldiers in Caballo Island.

I understand the concern expressed by the Philippine College of Physicians when they criticized the visit made by ranking military and health officials to Caballo Islands where the peacekeepers from the Ebola-stricken Liberia are supposed to be under 21-day quarantine as a safety precaution against the deadly virus.

What made it doubly controversial is that said officials went to meet the purposely isolated soldiers without even a trace of protective garment on them. In fact AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. was even seen elbow-bumping with the soldiers, in lieu of the handshake, in greeting them.

Now, was the visit a breach of protocol?

Yes, there was a soldier that was running a temperature and was immediately airlifted to an Ebola-equip treatment facility but was found to be suffering from malaria and none of the symptoms of the virus.

Symptom is actually the key word here. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has enumerated the following as signs and symptoms of Ebola: fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal (stomach) pain and unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising). Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days.

The soldiers may have come from Liberia, but the fact alone that none has shown symptoms of the deadly virus from the time they were waiting for a plane ride back to the Philippines until today, even if the 21-day period has not elapsed yet, only shows that none has been infected.

According to CDC, Ebola is not spread through the air, by water, or in general, by food. However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. There is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects can transmit Ebola virus. Only a few species of mammals (e.g., humans, bats, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus.

Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients.

The same cannot be said, however, of our soldiers, even while assigned in Liberia as peacekeepers, but to be quarantined is one important protocol to be followed especially when preventing the eruption of a virulent disease.

Aware and confident that the soldiers are all doing well up to this time is what made the military and health officials decide to visit them in Caballo Island, if only to assure them that the government is at their service for their health and welfare and not shunning them.

I don’t see, therefore, any breach of protocol, which led comedian-cum-senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto to ridiculously recommend that Catapang, DOH Acting Secretary Janette Garin and party be placed also under quarantine.

But by their insensitivity and self-serving photo ops, however, the visiting officials were doing an injustice to the family of the soldiers, who, having missed them for a long time and more anxious of their well-being, should have been given the highest prerogative to see and hug them first, but for the quarantine imposed.

It would have been more appropriate if the government officials should just have waited for the lapse of the 21-day quarantine after which they should bring the soldiers to the waiting arms of their love ones for a reunion anxiously longed for.



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