It’s time to ‘protect’ our barangay health workers

The pandemic has produced modern-day heroes in the form of frontliners, those who have sacrificed time, comfort, and even their health to be of service to others. At the height of the Covid crisis, medical frontliners were literally in front of the battle. While the rest of the population stayed inside the safety of their homes, doctors, nurses, down to a hospital’s personnel donned PPEs and even hazmat suits to face an unseen enemy.

After the scourge of the pandemic, these medical frontliners are still in the frontlines, this time in various vaccination sites all over the country. Until this moment, no one is resting among them, not until the last Filipino is boosted against the virus. But amid the tributes and praises accorded to these medical frontliners, one group seemed to be “left out in the cold” — the barangay health workers.

To be clear, barangay health workers are not “medical personnel” in the strictest sense. In fact, this is how the Department of Health (DOH) defined them, using the words of Republic Act 7883 — a barangay health worker is “a person who has undergone training programs under any accredited government and NGO, and who voluntarily renders primary healthcare services in the community after having been accredited to function as such by the local health board in accordance with the guidelines promulgated by the DOH.”

RA 7883, signed in 1995, is the "Barangay Health Workers' Benefits and Incentives Act," which defined the benefits and incentives accredited to them for their voluntary health services rendered to a community.
Amid the flurry of events during the two-year-plus health crisis, the protection provided by the law to barangay health workers seemed “inadequate.” It is not surprising as today’s health crisis is radically different from the ‘90s. With this realization, it’s time not only to increase the financial provisions for barangay health workers, but more important is for a timely law that fully protects them and honors their services.

Senator Robinhood Padilla filed Senate Bill No. 232 or an “Act Providing for a Magna Carta of Barangay Health Workers,” which aims to recognize the role of barangay health workers and provide them just compensation and necessary benefits — streamlining their financial remuneration and providing them allowances, cash incentives, hazard pay, retirement pay, and most vital during these times, free medical care and health insurance. They will also be entitled to a 20 percent discount on items under the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010.

The bill also intends to grant them the right to self-organization. Another feature is requiring a barangay health worker to be appointed for every 20 households. With the increase in benefits, the bill also calls for stricter screening: "To be accredited, barangay health workers must have rendered at least two years of continuous and satisfactory service as well as have completed regular training programs on healthcare service and community-based health programs as prescribed by the DOH."

“With the huge role that our barangay health workers perform in our health sector, it is only proper that the State likewise protect those who protect our people,” Padilla said.

We concur with the good senator on this one as barangay health workers are not only frontliners; they are also educators, advocates, coordinators, record keepers, and in emergencies prior to the arrival of a medical team — they are also our first responders.