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No budget for more COVID-19 testing labs, vaccine funding uncertain under 2022 spending plan

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
No budget for more COVID-19 testing labs, vaccine funding uncertain under 2022 spending plan
Local health officials inoculate 500 first dose of Sinovac jabs to residents and tricycle drivers of SanFra Toda held at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medallion Parish Church in Biñan, Laguna on Aug. 28, 2021
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — There is no budget for the establishment of more COVID-19 testing labs, while funding for coronavirus vaccines is uncertain under President Rodrigo Duterte’s final spending plan.

This was revealed as the Department of Health briefed the House of Representatives health panel on its proposed P242.22 billion budget for next year.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted to the committee that no budget is currently allotted under the National Expenditure Program for the creation of more COVID-19 testing laboratories, which are crucial to detect patients who have the disease.

Instead, their proposed budget only includes around P3.44 billion to fund existing labs and their workers.

The NEP is not yet final as it will still go through the scrutiny of lawmakers who may propose amendments to it during budget deliberations.

More testing labs ‘crucial’

Duque agreed that there is a need for more COVID-19 testing laboratories, but noted that there may be a need to “recalibrate” testing output.

“I agree there should be more RT-PCR testing laboratories. However, we need to calibrate as we are slowly reaching herd immunity, there may be a need to check if testing output should be further increased as we increase our coverage of COVID-19 immunization,” he said partly in Filipino.

House health committee chairperson Rep. Angelina Tan (Quezon) pointed out that the creation of more testing labs is crucial, especially as more coronavirus variants pop up.

“I still believe that we are in need of more molecular labs in the country despite our aggressive COVID-19 immunization program, still I believe with the advent of Delta variants and other variants that we see in the future that may cause increase in cases,” Tan said partly in Filipino.

‘Hanging in the balance’

The DOH also admitted that the P45-billion funding for COVID-19 vaccines for 2022 is limited to booster shots and is largely uncertain as they are under unprogrammed funds, which can only be tapped if there is a surplus in government revenues or if there are proceeds from foreign loans.

Duque said they initially proposed around P104 billion for vaccines, but the Department of Budget and Management slashed it to P45 billion and placed it under unprogrammed funds.

Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina) said this puts funding for vaccines “hanging in the balance.”

“Ang problema, bumabagsak po ang ekonomiya natin, at pagbagsak ng ekonomiya, babagsak din ang revenues. So in short, hanging in the balance kapag unprogrammed,” Quimbo said.

(The problem is our economy is tanking, and when the economy is tanking, revenues are also tanking. So in short, funding is hanging in the balance if it’s unprogrammed.)

The government is heavily banking on an aggressive COVID-19 vaccination program to bounce back from the pandemic, but this drive faces challenges including the lack of vaccines.

COVID-19 TESTING COVID-19 VACCINE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH FRANCISCO DUQUE III HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
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