DOH orders deployment of doctors to Cebu City to help in COVID-19 fight

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 28)— The Health Department has ordered the deployment of doctors— including “doctors to the barrios”— to Cebu City to help aid its battle against the COVID-19 crisis, its spokesperson said Sunday.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III issued a directive to deploy additional physicians following the reported “understaffing” of health workers in the area, Health Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire said in a statement.

Vergeire said the deployment will not be permanent, as the doctors— particularly rural health physicians— will be tasked to provide relief for the current staff, similar to previous assignments in the Marawi and Yolanda crises.

“Meaning the municipality they serve already has a municipal-hired doctor ensuring that the municipalities they serve will not be left doctorless during their assignment. Health care services will continue,” Vergeire said.

“The very nature of the DTTB (Doctors to the Barrios) program is to post doctors, usually in most remote areas where access to healthcare is a challenge, and where quality health care service is most needed,” the spokesperson added, noting how the coronavirus cases in Cebu City have “reached a critical point.”

The Doctors to the Barrios, however, condemned the directive, saying the concerned physicians were not properly informed or briefed through writing. They added that there was no proper consultation prior to the order’s rollout.

“The absence of proper communication, justifying the temporary reassignment of rural health physicians serving in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs) to serve in private hospitals in Cebu City is a clear violation of the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers,” the group said in a statement shared on Facebook, citing Section 6 of Republic Act No. 7305.

The deployed doctors likewise called on the DOH to “rethink” the directive, with the DTTB seeking inclusive dialogue between the government and other concerned stakeholders.

“We hope that DOH will consider this before it is too late, before the apathy and lack of accountability by their leadership completely smother the flames of passion and service of an entire generation of doctors,” it added.

Addressing the crisis in Cebu City

Aside from the DTTB, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has also sent a medical team to help in Cebu City’s battle against the viral disease.

The group is comprised of nine doctors, 10 nurses, and 13 medical aides, the AFP said in a statement.

Cebu City, now tagged as a COVID-19 “hotspot,” was placed under the stricter enhanced community quarantine in efforts to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

In an earlier interview with CNN Philippines, the Philippine Nurses’ Association Cebu Chapter revealed that several nurses in the area are being sent to quarantine facilities, leaving hospitals with understaffed healthcare workers.

Aside from limited manpower, the group also cried for help on depleting medical supplies. Its president Joseph Descallar likewise admitted that many nurses in Cebu are already contemplating on quitting their jobs due to unmet benefits and incentives.

READ: Understaffed Cebu nurses appeal for PPE, hazard pay amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases nationwide has surpassed 35,000.