Why redeploying community doctors won’t do good for Cebu’s fight vs. COVID-19

A community health worker volunteering for a non-profit health advocacy group (Photo grabbed from the Council for Health and Development Facebook page/ Bulatlat.com)


MANILA – Community doctors urged the Department of Health to stop the redeployment of their colleagues to hospitals in Cebu City, as the Philippine government focuses on the city’s fight against the dreaded virus.

“This is not at all a rational solution to the problem. This move will further deplete our pool of physicians as more doctors will be exposed to the virus and its possible fatal consequences,” the Community Medicine Practitioners and Advocates Association (COMPASS) said in a statement.

The Department of Health recently said it plans to redeploy their Doctors to the Barrio to hospitals in Cebu.

This program aims to augment the health services being provided to the rural poor. Its first batch of volunteers was first deployed in 1993. It is, however, long been plagued with problems, particularly on the compensation received by volunteer health practitioners, lack of support from the local government, family issues, and career advancement, resulting in poor retention of program volunteers, a 2012 study read.

As it stands, Cebu City has the most number of COVID-19 cases per million residents. Retired general and environmental secretary Roy Cimatu has been sent to contain the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. This morning, he has recommended the strictest lockdown level in Cebu City.

Data as for June 30, 2020. Source: https://covid19stats.ph/stats/by-location

In a statement, however, COMPASS said the redeployment will “essentially defeat” the objectives set by the Doctors to the Barrio program, as it is precisely meant to provide medical services to underserved rural poor or the Geographically Isolated and Depressed Areas.

“The rainy season has started and with the typhoons, floods and other disasters – along with their usual associated illnesses such as dengue fever, measles, pneumonia, influenza, leptospirosis apart from the common diseases like tuberculosis, diabetes, cardiovascular and kidney diseases, – hundreds of thousands of people will again have no access to a doctor in the low income, remote catchment areas left behind by the 40 DTTBs,” COMPASS said in a statement.

While the deployment is temporary, Compass said poor villages will be deprived of access to a medical doctor for at least four to six weeks at a time.

“Hiring and training additional doctors for deployment to these COVID -19-beleaguered hospitals will be a more rational measure to address the lack of doctors not only in Cebu but in other COVID-19 hotspots in the country,” the group of community doctors said.

Fill up vacant positions

COMPASS said both the health department and private hospitals can hire more physicians and fill up vacant plantilla positions to augment health personnel attending to COVID-19.

The group estimates that there are 3,500 physicians graduating annually, which can serve as “a pool of doctors that can be mobilized for the COVID response.”

Earlier, Filipino nurses have pushed for mass hiring among government hospitals as the current pandemic has exposed the chronic understaffing in the health sector. They assailed that even before COVID-19, nurses have been attending to 30 to 60 patients per shift, which is a far-cry to the 1:12 ratio for ward patients and 1:1 for patients needing intensive care.

Read: Nurses push for mass hiring, safe space amid increasing COVID-19 cases

The group said the chronic understaffing has pushed health workers to work long hours, increasing their exposure to the dreaded virus.

Not at the expense of the rural poor

COMPASS said doctors providing services to the rural poor has long been serving as frontliners against communicable and chronic diseases suffered by the marginalized populations in these communities.

“Public health measures undertaken by these frontliners in the rural areas such as disease prevention, immunization, women and child health care, community surveillance and timely curative intervention for the common diseases that plague the majority poor are as equally important as the emergency measures for the current pandemic though much less dramatic in impact,” the group said.

While they recognize the need for more health care workers to respond to the pandemic, Compass said “measures to be undertaken should not be at the sacrifice of the public health resources sorely needed by our people in these remote areas.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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