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Garin defends ‘unprotected’ visit to quarantined peacekeepers

Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin has admitted she may have committed some “lapses” in visiting the Filipino peacekeepers from Ebola-stricken Liberia unprotected, but said Wednesday she is still keen on attending budget deliberations in the Senate next week.

In a text message to GMA News Online, Garin said she will attend the budget deliberations at the Senate next Monday even if some senators have expressed apprehension over her presence. She however did not say if she will wear protective gear as suggested by acting Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III.

Department or agency heads are required to be at the Senate session hall during budget deliberations.

In a report on “24 Oras,” Garin defended her move to visit the peacekeepers, who are currently undergoing 21-day quarantine on Caballo Island, without any protective gear.

“I am not perfect. I might have lapses. But in critical situations like this, I will not do it without proper protocol on the proper guidance of the experts," she said.

"People were asking, Why not wait for the 21st day. If you wait for the 21st day, the decisions needed that time cannot be made," she added.

Garin was accompanied by Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. in her visit to Caballo Island. She said the visit was a way to remove the stigma against the peacekeepers.

Several senators, including Sotto, have expressed apprehension over the possible presence of the Garin at the Senate Session Hall after her visit on Caballo Island.

The Department of Health has repeatedly said that Ebola virus is not contagious unless an infected person showed symptoms. The peacekeepers on Caballo Island have been cleared of the virus and are just undergoing quarantine as part of protocol.

Garin acknowledged that proper information dissemination on Ebola should be bolstered. "We realized that may problem talaga in terms of communication," she said.

According to the World Health Organization, the symptoms of Ebola include fever, muscle pain, headache and sore throat followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash and in some cases internal and external bleeding.

Meanwhile, the peacekeeper who developed fever due to malaria while on quarantine may be back on Caballo Island on Thursday to continue the 21-day quarantine.

From the island in Naic, Cavite, the peacekeeper was transferred to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City after he developed the fever. It turned out that he was suffering from malaria and not Ebola.

"Patient with malaria already negative [from Ebola]. May follow-up check up tomorrow and if negative [for malaria], he will go back to Caballo Island," Garin said via text.

As for the peacekeeper who suffered from sore throat, he may also be back in the barracks on Thursday after being isolated.

“Patient with sore throat [is] improving and might be back to barracks tomorrow,” she added. —Rouchelle Dinglasan/KBK, GMA News