Health workers ask Congress to prioritize health sector in crafting 2021 budget
MANILA, Philippines — Congress must prioritize agencies attending to public health in terms of appropriations in the proposed 2021 national budget as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the overall state of health, a group of health workers said.
According to the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) on Thursday, lawmakers should listen to the plea of the people who want the Department of Health (DOH) to be prioritized in allocations, rather than politicians’ aspirations for the 2022 elections.
While DOH has a P203.1 billion proposed budget for 2021, this was only good for fifth among clusters in the government — behind the education sector, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Department of National Defense.
“We hope that legislators will listen to the plight of the people and heath workers whose livelihoods have been ruined and their health is at risk due to COVID-19. In this time of budget deliberation, they should carefully scrutinize how to increase the budget for the good of the people and set aside their political ambitions and aggrandizements for election 2022,” AHW president Robert Mendoza said.
“While politicians and the lawmakers themselves are vying for power and the benefits they can get from the 2021 national budget, many of our countrymen including health workers are already dying and infected with coronavirus disease,” he added.
The government said that P203.1 billion have been earmarked to DOH to ensure that COVID-19 strategies are aligned with the government’s response. This amount is segregated among DOH attached agencies:
- National Health Insurance Program (PhilHealth) – P71.4 billion
- Medical assistance to indigent patients – 17.31 billion
- Human resources for health – P16.6 billion
- Provision for COVID-19 surveillance – P51.56 million
- Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) – P4.8 billion
BY THE NUMBERS: The proposed 2021 national budget
But during the budget deliberations at the House of Representatives on Thursday, Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo said that DOH’s COVID-19 budget is insufficient, especially in the category of acquiring vaccines against the coronavirus.
Quimbo pointed out that with a P2.5 billion budget for vaccines, only 3.9 million Filipinos can be inoculated if a vial costs around P600 — which is way lower than how much experts estimate it to be. She noted however that this would be short of President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to vaccinate 20 million Filipinos.
As of now, there are 348,698 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, 48,040 of which are active cases, while 294,161 have recovered and 6,497 have succumbed to the virus.
AHW said that the administration must push for higher budget and other reforms — like increasing the salary of health workers — or it would indicate that the government is not interested in solving the pandemic.
“In order to defeat the pandemic, we call on the lawmakers to […] restore budget cut in Maintenance and Other Operating expenses (MOOE) of 23 DOH hospitals amounting to P1.2B; abolish PhilHealth and realign P71.2B budget of PhilHealth to all public hospitals for free direct health services,” AHW said.
“(Lawmakers must) allocate P160.43B to COVID-19 response which includes free mass testing program, systematic contact tracing, more isolation facilities and proper treatment; fill up the 14, 553 unfilled vacant positions and create additional plantilla positions; increase Health Budget 10% of the Gross Domestic Product,” it added.
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