A desperate cry for help from overburdened medical front-liners battling a surge in new coronavirus cases in Cebu City has been answered — partly.
The Department of Health (DOH) is sending doctors from rural areas in Western Visayas to the capital city of Cebu province to augment its COVID-19 response efforts. But some of the doctors do not appear to be enthusiastic about the new assignment, claiming, among other reasons, that they had not been properly informed.
Forty doctors under the DOH’s Doctor to the Barrios program (DTTB) and Post-Residency Deployment Program (PRDP) will be pulled out from their assignments and sent to Cebu City, said Marlyn Convocar, DOH director for Western Visayas, in a letter of compliance to Health Undersecretary Abdullah Dumama Jr.
The doctors—29 under the DTTB and 11 under the PRDP—will be fielded in four batches from June 30 to Sept. 15, inclusive of the 14-day quarantine periods.
“The doctors will not be permanently deployed in Cebu City but will only provide relief,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines is also extending help, sending on Sunday 32 health workers to Cebu City.
A medical team of nine doctors, 10 nurses and 13 medical aides who would make up “Task Group Central” was flown to the city on a C130 aircraft.
The Joint Task Force COVID Shield earlier drew flak for deploying 150 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) to the Queen City of the South, which desperately needed health workers instead of policemen.
The SAF contingent brought to about a thousand the number of police personnel sent to the city to help enforce the enhanced community quarantine, which President Duterte reimposed on Cebu City due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
In a bulletin on June 27, the DOH recorded 5,598 cases in Cebu City, of which 3,116 were “active,” 2,326 were recoveries, and 156 were deaths.
At least 1,539 people were admitted to different hospitals that were filled beyond capacity, while 1,577 were in quarantine centers.
The DOH Central Visayas had to tap the services of at least 100 “underboard physicians,” or medical graduates who are not yet licensed practitioners, because it lacked doctors and nurses.
The Cebu Medical Society, a group of more than 3,000 physicians and medical specialists, welcomed the deployment of more doctors, saying this would help raise the limited manpower in hospitals.
“Thank you,” said Dr. Peter Mancao, public relations officer of the group. “I hope their deployment here will be properly arranged.”
A top concern now is how to “boost [the] morale and stomach” of doctors and nurses in the city, Mancao told the Inquirer.
Some of the government doctors, however, are not keen about going to Cebu.
In a joint statement posted on Facebook, DTTB Batches 36 (Alab) and 37 (Mandala) decried the DOH decision to deploy their members, calling it “abrupt” and “exploitative.”
They said the doctors had not been properly informed and that no proper consultation with the local governments was held.
Detailed guidelines and protocols to protect the doctors were absent, they added.
“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 [for] the concerns of the doctors and the local chief executives,” said the online statement.
Their duty, they said, was “crucial if we, as a nation, truly intend to heal as one. 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.”
COVID-19 cases are rising in rural communities due to the return of overseas Filipino workers and residents who had been stranded in Metro Manila to their communities, they noted.
The DTTB program, started by the DOH in 1993, aims to respond to the lack of doctors in rural and depressed areas.
Dr. Sophia Pulmones, head of the Local Health Support Division of the DOH in Western Visayas, on Sunday said the deployment was in line with a directive from the DOH central office for its offices in the Visayas to augment doctors in Cebu City.
Pulmones said doctors under the DTTB program, who would be sent to Cebu City, were from areas where there were municipal health officers to ensure that communities they served would still have the services of government physicians.
“We did not send those four doctors who are serving as municipal health officers,” she told the Inquirer.
She said part of the DTTB program was to deploy doctors to areas affected by disasters and health emergencies.
Police not enemy
Police Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, chief of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, on Saturday defended the deployment of hundreds of policemen and soldiers to Cebu City, saying they would ensure that the people there follow health protocols.
“We are not your enemy. We are on the same side in fighting the real enemy, which is the coronavirus,’’ Eleazar said in a radio interview on Sunday.
At a sendoff for the medical team at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, Vice Adm. Gaudencio Collado Jr., the AFP vice chief of staff, said the military was proud of the group for stepping up in a dangerous but very important mission.
“This is what it means to be a soldier and we know more than anyone that no danger of disease will stop us from accomplishing our mission,” Collado said.
For his part, Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the national task force against COVID-19, said he was grateful to the members of the team for answering Cebu City’s call for help.
“We know this is difficult but your dedication, strength and bravery will boost the morale of your fellow health workers,” Galvez said.
—With reports from Tina G. Santos, Nestle Semilla, Dale G. Israel and Ador Vincent Mayol
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