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Friday, July 26, 2024

Gov’t to hire 50k contact tracers

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Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday reminded the Department of the Interior and Local Government to prioritize barangay health workers and displaced workers in the hiring of 50,000 contact tracers.

“We should give priority to our barangay health workers, civil society organizations and parent-leaders from the 4Ps. They are already organized and their familiarity with the communities will make contact tracing faster,” Drilon said.

He said this is in accordance with the provision of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, otherwise known as Bayanihan 2.

Drilon introduced the provision in the law that mandates that contract tracing shall be immediately and properly done through the use of efficient technology for data collection and analysis, and by engaging contact tracers that may include, but not limited to, displaced workers both in the formal and informal sectors, from existing networks of barangay health workers, parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and members of duly-accredited civil society organizations.”

“We proposed that provision in the Bayanihan 2 to boost our contact tracing capability. The newly-signed Bayanihan law made sure that the three T’s (test, trace and treatment) will have ample support and funding,” Drilon said.

The senator said that the faster the contact tracing is done, the better the chance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

He noted that there are 400 thousand barangay health workers and parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program who can do contract tracing with ease and efficiency.

“Since they are already organized, they can be quickly mobilized as contact tracers,” he said.

The government is now hiring additional 50,000 contract tracers, seven months into the pandemic, to beef up its present 97,000 contact tracers.

Drilon said the hiring process alone takes time, one month being the fastest for it to be completed. Whereas when the DILG taps the barangay health workers, the LGUs can just give additional allowance, thereby saving the government money and time.

“We can save time and resources if we give preference to them as contact tracers instead of creating a new army of contact tracers,” he said.

Drilon earlier said that what the country needs are contact tracers and not an army of political supporters nor trolls for the 2022 elections.

As this developed,  the House of Representatives’ committee on health has formed a technical working group to consolidate 11 proposals proposing to establish a medical reserve corps that will be on standby mode to supplement frontliners in the healthcare system during times of national health emergencies and disasters such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Deputy Speaker for Finance and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, author of one of the 11 bills, said the lack of medical personnel during the initial stages of the country’s fight against the unprecedented Covid-19 contagion has “underscored the urgency of establishing a medical reserve corps to ensure that the healthcare system is never overwhelmed during emergencies.”

“The issue that was extensively discussed during last week’s committee hearing on the proposed MRC was whether the reserve corps should be composed solely of licensed medical practitioners, or if graduates of four-year medical courses should also be included,” he said.

Villafuerte’s version as contained in House Bill  7007 provides that all graduates with degrees in the fields of medicine, nursing and other related fields who have not yet secured their licenses to practice be required to join the MRC. But other proposals call for only licensed medical professionals to join the reserve force.

President Duterte has asked the Congress in his State of the Nation Address last July 27 to set up the MRC.

“We hail our health professionals as heroes. Now is the time to pass the Advanced Nursing Education Act and the law instituting the Medical Reserve Corps,” the President said in his fifth SONA.

Villafuerte also authored HB 7281, which seeks reforms in nursing education, including the introduction of basic and postgraduate programs that would train and encourage nurses to work in communities and seek leadership or management positions in their profession in local hospitals instead of leaving for overseas jobs.

Under Villafuerte’s bill, members of the medical reserve corps may be called upon and mobilized to assist the national and local governments in their functions related to addressing the urgent needs of the country’s healthcare system during times of crises.

“This bill seeks to uphold the role of medical and health-related personnel in nation-building. Being involved in the frontlines of a public health emergency is a patriotic act, and the reserve corp’s vital role necessitate that their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being are protected,” Villafuerte said.

Under HB 7007, the Secretary of the Department of Health shall initiate the mobilization of the medical reserve corps, in coordination with the Secretaries of the Departments of National Defense, of Education and the DILG or their duly-authorized representatives with a rank of Undersecretary.

The bill also proposes that members of the medical reserve corps may be called to undergo retraining to maintain and enhance their level of competency and readiness for mobilization in times of crises.

Villafuerte said his bill requires the DOH to evaluate requests for the deployment of the medical reserve corps.

“When the number of personnel requested does not exceed one hundred and fifty (150) and the period of deployment does not exceed sixty (60) days, the DOH shall decide whether to approve or disapprove the request within twenty-four (24) hours from receipt thereof,” the bill states.

“When the number of personnel requested exceeds one hundred and fifty (150) or the period of deployment exceeds sixty (60) days, the DOH shall make a recommendation to the Office of the President (OP) within twenty-four (24) hours from receipt of the request. The OP shall decide whether to approve or disapprove the request within twenty-four (24) hours from receipt of the recommendation of the DOH,” the bill adds.

In case of a declaration of a state of war, state of lawless violence or state of calamity, the DOH may, by its own initiative, recommend to the President the mobilization of the medical reserve force.

The President by himself shall also have the power to order the mobilization of the corps to respond to national or local contingencies related to external and territorial defense, internal security and peace and order and/or disaster risk reduction management, the bill likewise states.

Villafuerte is the lead author of the House version of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, as well as the follow-up Bayanihan to Recover as One bill or Bayanihan 2, which is now up for the President’s signature.

He is a member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee monitoring the implementation of the Bayanihan Law and co-chairman of the social amelioration cluster of the House Ad Hoc Committee to Defeat Covid-19, which is chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

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