By Mario Casayuran
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said yesterday the shortage of health workers nationwide has serious implications on the health of Filipinos especially during the public health emergency brought about by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) threat.
Gatchalian raised this concern following infections of 132,000 worldwide, including 64 cases from the Philippines.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and senators Gatchalian, Imee R. Marcos, and Nancy Binay are on self-quarantine after a resource speaker in a committee public hearing chaired by Gatchalian on pending bills tested positive for COVID-19.
To emphasize this alarming shortage, Gatchalian cited figures that the Department of Health (DOH) shared in a Senate public hearing on medical scholarships.
According to DOH Learning and Development Division chief Dr. Pretchell Tolentino, the country has a shortage of 8,840 doctors nationwide particularly in far-flung rural areas.
In the same hearing, Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi explained that in rolling out the Universal Health Care Law, 44 doctors, nurses, midwives, and medical technologists combined (private and public) should be catering to a population of 10,000. The ratio is currently at 19 per 10,000 population.
“Nakakabahalang malaman na hindi lamang testing facilities at testing kits ang kulang sa atin ngayong nasa ilalim tayo ng isang public health emergency. Dahil sa kakulangan ng mga doktor, naaapektuhan ang ating kakayahang magbigay ng agarang tulong medikal sa mga kababayan nating nasa panganib tulad na lang ng COVID-19,” Gatchalian said.
(It is alarming that the country, now under a state of public health emergency, lacks testing facilities and testing kits. Because of the lack of doctors, the health of our countrymen is at risk, particularly for COVID-19.)
To address the shortage of doctors and other medical professionals in the country, Gatchalian is eyeing more scholarships that would send underprivileged yet deserving students to private institutions.
In the absence of medical schools in state universities and colleges (SUCs), Gatchalian instead urged the Department of Health (DOH) to leverage and increase partnerships with private medical schools so these institutions can absorb poor students who are academically deserving.
Since these institutions have already made investments in sophisticated technology and facilities, Gatchalian said sending scholars to these schools would be more efficient compared to putting up medical schools.
Out of the country’s 111 state colleges and universities (SCUs) in the country, only eight are operating medical schools.
Since 2017, DOH has been offering a medical scholarship program that covers tuition costs and allowances for books, uniforms, lodging, transportation, annual medical insurance, and living subsidy, among others.
At present, the DOH has 1,141 scholars in both SUCs and private schools.