Why are a disproportionate number of Filipino healthcare workers dying of coronavirus?

No one is sure why Filipino healthcare workers appear to be so vulnerable to coronavirus, but the figures are stark and wildly disproportionate.

Out of a total NHS workforce of around one and a half million, 18,000 are Filipino. However, out of the 126 health and social care workers who have died after testing positive for the virus, 26 have been of Filipino descent.

Marissa Weaver’s niece Leilani Medel was a nurse in South Wales who died after contracting coronavirus earlier this month. She is a care worker herself and says there are two factors at play. Inadequate supplies of PPE, and a reluctance among Filipino workers to speak up about the lack of equipment because they fear being reprimanded or even losing their job. “It’s not in our nature to complain,” says Marissa.

Whatever the reason for the high fatality rate, relatives of healthcare workers who die in the course of their work are often left feeling abandoned. Donald Suelto, an NHS nurse who worked at Hammersmith Hospital in London, died alone in his flat of suspected coronavirus. After the police informed his only relative in the UK, his niece Emelyne who lives in Scotland, she spent nearly a week trying to find out where his body had been taken. The lack of information and support only added to the trauma of his immediate family back in the Philippines.

The Philippines Nurses Association in the UK is calling on the government to "do its bit", by devising a better system for supporting the families of its immigrant employees who have died because of their work, including helping to pay for repatriation costs. The association’s president calls them "the angels of the NHS". Helping their grieving loved ones might be a way to honour them.

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