DOH blindsided by DOLE plan to trade nurses for COVID-19 vaccines
Medical workers screen patients for possible COVID-19 before admission at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) in Quezon City on April 18, 2020.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

DOH blindsided by DOLE plan to trade nurses for COVID-19 vaccines

(Philstar.com) - February 24, 2021 - 4:05pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:31 p.m.) — The Department of Health said Wednesday that it is unaware and was not consulted on the plan of the Department of Labor and Employment to deploy more Filipino healthcare workers to the United Kingdom and Germany in exchange for COVID-19 vaccines.

“We were not consulted. We are not even aware of this kind of exchange between our government and the other governments for this matter,” DOH spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire told a news briefing.

Vergeire said that such a plan should be presented to the government’s pandemic task force who would decide on the matter.

Malacañang also said in a separate briefing that President Rodrigo Duterte was not informed of the proposal, a fact which was confirmed by DOLE itself later in the day.

“The discussions are still at the level of Secretary [Silvestre Bello III] and the ambassadors, so this has not yet reached the president,” said Raul Francia, director of DOLE’s information and public service bureau.

Francia also attempted to clarify what he called a “twisted” and “distorted notion” that the Philippines is trading Filipino nurses and healthcare workers in exchange for vaccines, explaining that what the DOLE wants is for these workers to be inoculated against COVID-19 before they are deployed.

“We just want to ensure that the nurses who will be deployed have been vaccinated and that the vaccines should come from the requesting countries,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He added, “What is clear is that we are not dangling our available nurses and healthcare workers for vaccines.”

But for Senate labor committee chair Joel Villanueva, swapping people for products is simply untenable and is a symptom of "desperation" to find coveted coronavirus vaccines.

"If only the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) their job, the DOLE would not have been forced to find other means [to get vaccines,]" Villanueva said in Filipino.

Alice Visperas, DOLE international labor affairs bureau director, told a news briefing on Monday that Bello has asked the governments of the UK and Germany to give Philippines vaccines in exchange for the deployment of more Filipino healthcare workers.

This is one of two of the agency’s requests, Visperas said, for the government to grant the two countries’ appeal to exempt them from the deployment cap — the other being the renewal of previous bilateral agreements for the protection of overseas Filipino workers.

The government barred healthcare workers from leaving the Philippines in April 2020 in a move that ensured that there would be enough medical professionals in the country to battle the pandemic.

After much clamor from healthcare workers who were seeking better working conditions abroad, the ban was lifted in November 2020 but the government only allowed up to 5,000 workers to leave annually. — Xave Gregorio

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