DOH sends more doctors to Cebu City, but rural physicians hit ‘lack of consultation’

Sofia Tomacruz

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DOH sends more doctors to Cebu City, but rural physicians hit ‘lack of consultation’

Some physicians from the Doctors to the Barrios program say the Department of Health did not consult them about their redeployment to Cebu City, adding that this would jeopardize health in far-flung areas

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) ordered the deployment of more doctors to Cebu City as coronavirus cases continue to increase, overwhelming hospitals and health facilities.

In a statement on Sunday, June 28, the DOH said the directive issued by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III followed similar observations on the city’s health system reported by National Task Force on COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr and Cebu overseer Secretary Roy Cimatu.

“Following reports of [Central Visayas Center for Health Development] Director [Jaime] Bernadas that the Cebu City healthcare system is overwhelmed with patient load at the moment, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III issued a directive to deploy doctors including DTTBs (Doctors to the Barrios),” the DOH said on Sunday.

The DOH gave assurances the doctors will only be deployed temporarily as part of measures to provide aid during the coronavirus crisis, similar to how they were deployed during efforts to respond to disasters like Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and the Marawi City siege.

The agency added that the doctors tasked to go to Cebu City are also rural health physicians in areas where there are municipal health officers. This means that while rural health physicians will be in Cebu City, the municipal-hired doctors will cater to patients in their respective areas.

“The municipality they serve already has a municipal-hired doctor, ensuring that the municipalities they serve will not be left doctor-less during their assignment. Healthcare services will continue,” the DOH said.

“COVID-19 cases have reached a critical point in Cebu City and the department is grateful to those who have risen to this patriotic call.”

No consultation?

While the DOH issued the order on Sunday, some rural health doctors decried the directive, saying they were not consulted on their reassignments. The DTTB program’s 36th and 37th batches, in particular, “strongly condemned” the DOH directive which they warned would jeopardize health in far-flung areas. 

Aside from lack of consultation, the DTTB batches said they oppose the order because they were not informed in writing and not given guidelines detailing how they would be protected during their proposed temporary reassignments. The doctors said the directive also contradicts the very purpose of the DTTB program.

“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 the concerns of the doctors and the local chief executives,” the DTTB batches said in a statement on Sunday. 

The DTTB doctors appealed to the DOH to reconsider its order, saying that doctors in far-flung areas are in a position to fight the coronavirus in communities themselves, especially considering a number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and stranded Filipinos are going back to their hometowns.

“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,” they said. 

“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.”

Doctors ‘badly needed’ on the ground 

Some localities also appealed to the DOH to reconsider the redeployment of doctors assigned to their areas, saying that these physicians are crucial to local government units’ response efforts.

These localities include the municipality of Concepcion in Iloilo province, whose mayor Raul Banias asked Duque to hold off on redeploying the DTTB doctor assigned to their area.

Banias told Rappler that Duque approved his request, and the doctor’s redeployment will be delayed to 2 to 3 months later.

“Which is for me fair enough, as I [am] hoping that by that time there might be no [more] need for augmentation of doctors,” he said.

According to Banias, their DTTB doctor is “badly needed” to help monitor OFWs and stranded individuals in their isolation facility. Their municipal health officer, he added, is due to retire and was recently hospitalized.

Cebu City has seen a recent spike in cases, leading experts to describe the city as the second battleground in the country’s fight against the coronavirus. As of Sunday, the Cebu City Health Department said there are 4,962 cases, including 156 deaths and 2,596 recoveries.

The total number of coronavirus cases nationwide reached 35,455 on Sunday, with 1,244 deaths and 9,686 recoveries. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.