This September 7, 2018 photo from the Doctors to the Barrios Facebook page shows rural doctors in the field.
Doctors to the Barrios Facebook page
DOH defends move to transfer barrio doctors to Cebu City
Kristine Joy Patag ( - June 29, 2020 - 12:20pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health defended its order to reassign rural health physicians under the government’s Doctors to the Barrios Program (DTTB) to augment health services in Cebu City saying it is only “temporary” and “not new.”

This comes after doctors under DTTB protested the “abrupt exploitative order” to deploy them to private hospitals in Cebu City, where COVID-19 cases are increasing. No consultation was also done before the DOH directive.

“The DTTBs will be temporarily assigned to Cebu City to provide critical relief as part of the national response to the emergency situation,” DOH said in a statement.

It added: “This temporary assignment is not new as DTTBs have been temporarily redeployed in the past under similar emergency situations such as the Marawi siege and the super typhoon Yolanda response.”

Cebu City is currently under the strictest form of the community quarantine in a drastic bid to arrest the rising number of COVID-19 infections in the locality. Over the weekend, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said government doctors, including those under DTTB, will be deployed to Metro Cebu.

On Monday, DOH said the move was after government officials observed that the “Cebu City health care system is overwhelmed with patient load at the moment.”

The health department also said that they are redeploying rural health physicians, and not municipal health officers, “which means that their respective municipalities will not be left doctorless during their assignment and health care services will continue.”

They will also be provided with roundtrip transportation, statutory allowances, actual hazard duty pay, accommodations and other incidental expenses during their deployment period in Cebu City, including post-deployment quarantine, DOH added.

DTTB doctors: This will deprive healthcare to already marginalized communities

DTTB doctors, however, pointed out that they are already serving as gatekeepers against COVID-19 in the communities they are serving.

They said on Sunday: "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.

They added that removing them from the communities they are serving, even temporarily, “will deprive healthcare to thousands of Filipinos in already marginalized communities.”

According to DOH website, DTTBs are deployed to “ensure health care service to depressed, marginalized and underserved areas.”

The Association of Municipal Health Officers of the Philippines (AMHOP) also backed the DTTB doctors’ appeal to the DOH to rethink their redeployment. They stressed that the community doctors are already bound by their Memorandum of Agreement with the local government units they are serving.

AMHOP also said that pulling out the community doctors from the barrios to augment health services in Cebu City private hospitals “runs afoul to the very purpose of the DTTB program.”

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