Half of DOH budget for COVID-19 response unaccounted for — think tank

Half of DOH budget for COVID-19 response unaccounted for â think tank
File photo shows Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
The STAR / Boy Santos, File

MANILA, Philippines — As the country on Thursday logs another daily tally of over 2,000 new COVID-19 infections, the health department is facing more scrutiny for an alleged lack of support for hospitals and medical frontliners.

Non-profit policy think tank Institute for Leadership, Empowerment and Democracy (iLEAD) on July 8 called on the Department of Health to account for the budget alloted for the country's COVID-19 response.

“We call on DOH to share progress on their budget spending, especially the [P45 billion] additional budget given to them for PPEs and test kits. How much of that budget has been utilized?" iLEAD Executive Director Zy-za Suzara asked.

The think tank estimated that there should be around "10.5 million [personal protective equipment] sets, or at least 200 PPE sets for each of the 42,046 barangays in the country, purchased by the government for frontliners’ use."

However, latest government data shows that only 6.1 million PPE sets have been purchased, while around 1.7 million sets have been delivered. The non-profit highlighted that the DOH has not provided any details on PPE distribution.

“Slow spending of DOH in this time of crisis is unforgivable. DOH spent [P 72 billion] from January to May. That is only 50% of their total budget. They have around [P100 billion] in their 2020 budget and [P48 billion] additional funds for COVID-19,” Suzara added.

The office of the Ombudsman is currently investigating the liability of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other health offficials in the the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ: Ombudsman investigates Duque, DOH officials over COVID-19 response

'Pitiful situation' of medical frontliners

Meanwhile, Sen. Leila de Lima on Thursday slammed the health department for its "out of touch" handling of the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequently "pitiful situation" of the country's medical frontliners.

The senator highlighted the recent pleas issued by San Lazaro Nurses for better working conditions, saying frontliners, "who we laud as heroes, are now crying foul."

READ: Nurses plead for relief as 40 San Lazaro workers test positive for COVID-19 | San Lazaro Hospital management defends itself amid complaints from nurses 

De Lima added that her office has been informed that frontliners of Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center "are likewise made to endure sorry conditions."

She also hit the Health department for allegedly delaying its admission that critical care capacity in Metro Manila were starting to become overwhelmed.

"It took big private hospitals such as Makati Med and St Luke's - which both issued statements that they have reached their operating capacity - for DOH Usec. Leopoldo Vega to finally admit that our country's critical care capacity has hit 'danger zone.'"

READ: St. Luke's, Makati Med can no longer take in COVID-19 patients

"Don't just look at the data. Wake up to the truth. In calculating where we stand in this war against an invisible and lethal virus, you have to consider other factors that are not in black and white coming into play. For instance, what is the sense of a 30% bed capacity for COVID-19 patients when hospital staff are either quitting, being quarantined, are themselves weakened by exhaustion, and worse, dying?" De Lima questioned.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has warned that Metro Manila could shift back to a stricter enhanced community quarantine if the region's critical care capacity does not improve in the coming weeks.

The Philippines on Thursday logged 2,498 new coronavirus infections, bringing the national tally to 61,266.

A researcher from the University of the Philippines earlier this month amended his research group's projection of 60,000 cases in the country by the end of July, bumping up the figure to 65,000 following spikes in daily tallies.

However, considering the current rate of daily infections, the country may see the tally surpass even the amended predictions of the UP OCTA Research group, with a little over two weeks left before the month is out. — Bella Perez-Rubio




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