By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – The end of the COVID-19 pandemic may be “in sight” as far as the World Health Organization is concerned. But for Filipino health workers, their rightful hazard pay and allowances remain nowhere to be seen.
“Clearly, this government is not sincere in recognizing our great and heroic contributions during this time of pandemic. We, health workers are being put at the forefront of the battle against the unseen and deadly disease, yet DOH and this administration managed to deceive, divide and insult our ranks,” said Salome Ejes, who is the president of the Philippine Heart Center Employees Association.
Earlier this year, the health department said they are slated to continue providing health workers their COVID-19 allowances, ranging from P3,000 to P9,000 monthly, depending on the type of facility they are assigned to and their exposure to the dreaded virus. This, the health department said, is their “more inclusive and responsive” One COVID-19 Allowance for Filipino health workers.
In the past days, however, health workers have been holding protest actions from their respective hospital wards to the streets, prompting the budget department to release P1.04 billion to the Department of Health to cover allowances of government and private sector health workers. This, however, will only cover health workers who were involved in the pandemic response from Sept. 15, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
“We are all inevitably exposed to health risks and hazards therefore all health workers must be categorized as high risk in the COVID risk exposure classification and we highly demand for immediate release of our unpaid benefits,” added Ejes.
Where are the new hires?
In their protest action, health workers also renewed their calls for the Philippine government to hire more health workers as the pandemic exacerbated their chronic understaffing, with nurses looking after 30 to as many as 60 patients at the height of the spread of COVID-19 in the country. This is a far cry from the ideal 1:12 ratio for ward patients and 1:1 for intensive care patients.
Read: Nurses push for mass hiring, safe space amid increasing COVID-19 cases
Citing data from the health department, the Alliance of Health Workers said the government intends to hire an additional 26,035 doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and other health-related professionals under the contractual-based National Health Workforce Support program, which deploys health workers to far-flung communities.
“Why can’t the government hire these contractual health workers as regular employees and provide additional plantilla positions? “ said Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Health Workers.
Directly fund public health care
Mendoza said that if the new administration truly values the health of the people, the government must allocate the budget directly for its hospitals.
According to Ibon Foundation, the 2023 proposed budget for the health department is the smallest increase in recent years, which is a measly 4.1 percent or P7.4 billion increase from 2022.
“A closer look at the DOH budget also shows that the government is still failing to give importance to much-needed direct health services and facilities with decreasing allocations for important programs and subprograms,” Ibon said.
Among the health programs that will suffer big budget cuts include Family Health (by 16.7 percent), Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (by 41.6 percent), Epidemiology and Surveillance Program (by 17.8 percent), National Reference Laboratories under the Health Facilities Operation Program (by 13.9 percent).
Meanwhile, the controversial government health insurance program, PhilHealth, is slated to receive a third of the health budget in 2023 despite its underperformance in providing health care to Filipinos, said Ibon Foundation.
Mendoza, for his part, said, “we will not get tired of raising our voices until our demands and concerns are heard and addressed.” (RVO)