By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday urged the Department of Health (DOH) to set aside its plan to hire contact tracers and instead divert the funds for treating COVID-19 patients.
In a statement, Sotto said it will be “wiser and more practical” for the DOH to use its P11.7-billion budget for employing contact tracers on treating infected persons instead.
“We need funds to treat our sick kababayans (countrymen). Mas mahalagang gamitin na lang ang pondong ito para sa pagbili ng mga gamot at medical equipment na makakatulong sa paggaling ng mga pasyente (It will be more important to use this fund for buying medicines and medical equipment that will help patients recover),” Sotto said.
The Senate chief raised concern that the multi-billion funding will just go to waste.
“You cannot just deploy anyone to do the job. Contact tracing can only be effective if you use people who are trained in investigation like how they handled it in Baguio [City],” he said.
“If the DOH hires people who have no experience in investigation, then the program is practically useless. The people they will hire will just ask black and white questions and get answers that will not yield the needed information to help the government track down people who might have been contaminated by the virus,” he added.
He said the DOH can coordinate its contact tracing efforts with other government agencies which have the experience and manpower to go around the country.
Unlike experienced personnel, “neophyte” contract tracers will still have to be trained about contact tracing and will further delay the process, he said.
“The DOH does not need to hire new people to do contact tracing. It can coordinate with other government offices and tap displaced employees to carry out the task at no additional cost to the government,” he said.
Sotto had earlier questioned the DOH’s request for P11.7 billion to finance the government’s contact tracing efforts, particularly the hiring of workers who will help in looking for the close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
According to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, over 130,000 contact tracers are needed to achieve the ideal 1:800 ratio between contract tracers and the country’s entire population. He said the department plans to hire contact tracers who will be paid P30,000 per month for three months.
The country is currently short of 94,000 contact tracers, the DOH said.
Government economic managers also saw this move as a way to revive the economy and address the unemployment brought about by the pandemic.
“What I am suggesting is for the DOH to be more prudent on how the country’s funds are being used. But of course, the decision is still with the President,” Sotto said.