Doctors in remote barrios protest sudden reassignment to Cebu City
Cebu City is under the most rigid enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), while Talisay also in Cebu is under modified ECQ.
Michael Varcas, file

Doctors in remote barrios protest sudden reassignment to Cebu City

(Philstar.com) - June 28, 2020 - 5:04pm

MANILA, Philippines — Doctors under the government's Doctors to the Barrios (DTTBs) program were not informed about what they called an "abrupt exploitative order" to assign them to private hospitals in Cebu City.

The transfer order included no guidelines and protocols to protect the doctors in this temporary reassignment and did not consult affected stakeholders, the organization said Sunday.

This came after rural health physicians were informed on Friday that they would be pulled out of from their assigned municipalities in western and eastern Visayas to report for duty in unspecified private hospitals in Cebu City where a spike in coronavirus cases has been reported.

Metro Cebu was recently placed under a strict enhanced community quarantine for the same reason, and elements of the military and the national police's Special Action Force have been deployed to assist in the ECQ's enforcement and implementation.  

The doctors said the order "was only supported by a request letter addressed to the Undersecretary of Health for Field Implementation and Coordination Team for Visayas and Mindanao and an unsigned advanced copy of an Office Order, respectively," while no proof of an agreement between the private institutions and the health department was made available for discussion among all parties involved.

"The absence of proper communication, justifying the temporary reassignment of rural health physicians serving in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs) to serve in private hospitals in Cebu City is a clear violation of the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers," the paper reads.

"The DTTBs and the local chief executives should have been represented in decision-making involving this temporary reassignment. Failing to do so makes such directives exploitative for doctors and inconsiderate for the communities that they serve. There is complete disregard to (sic.) the concerns of the doctors and the local chief executives," it adds.

Republic Act No. 7305, or the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers, reads:

Sec. 6. Transfer or Geographical Reassignment of Public health Workers: "(c) a public health worker shall NOT be transferred and or reassigned, except when made in the interest of public service, in which case, the employee concerned shall be informed of the reasons therefore in writing." 

The doctors in their statement also bemoaned the lack of clear protocols to safeguard and protect the doctors temporarily rendering service, particularly with regards to safety, protection, lodging, insurance, and specific duties, casting fear that "the likelihood that the services rendered by public servants will be abused by private institutions" would increase as a result of the lack of clear guidelines for their protection.

Transfer deprives remote areas of medical care

They also pointed out that their members had a unique position as rural doctors, and their removal from their assigned communities would only be damaging to those living there. 

"Removing a DTTB from a municipality, albeit temporarily, will deprive healthcare to thousands of Filipinos in already marginalized communities. If we further clip the already short human resources for health in GIDAs, we perpetuate the existing inequities in access to healthcare that the DTTB program wishes to address," the doctors said. 

"If the goal of this reassignment is to address the overwhelmed capacity of private hospitals in Cebu City, the DTTBs are in a position to help decongest hospitals by providing primary care in our communities. We are your gatekeepers in the barrios. Our duty here is crucial if we, as a nation, truly intend to Heal As One. Let us not allow the disadvantaged communities to suffer from the loss of their rural health physicians at a time when they are needed the most," they added. 

The health department has long been the subject of much scrutiny in the public eye, with more than half of the Senate's members calling for health chief’s resignation, while the Office of the Ombudsman has announced an investigation into Duque and other officials over the coronavirus response.

Former national task force consultant Dr. Tony Leachon also said he felt that he was asked to resign after voicing out his criticism for the national government's approach to fighting the global pandemic. In a statement, the chief implementer of the country’s coronavirus task force said that Leachon's criticism should have been directed internally in order to maintain a united front.   

"The Department of Health must uphold its mandate of serving the Filipino people, especially the poor and the marginalized in the peripheries of society, with justice. We hope that DOH will consider this before it is too late, before the apathy and lack of accountability by their leadership completely smother the flames of passion & service of an entire generation of doctors," the DTTBs' statement said. 

"We began this fight in the communities and we will continue to do so faithfully for as long as we can and as best as we can because that is who we are." — Franco Luna

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