By RJ Espartinez

The Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) strongly condemned what it calls the “abrupt exploitative” order to transfer its doctors from Regions VI and VII to private hospitals in Cebu City as part of the government’s response against the rising cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Cebu City.

According to a position paper from DTTB batches 36-ALAB and 37-MANDALA, rural health physicians assigned by the Department of Health (DOH) in Region’s VI and VII received information that they will be re-assigned to unspecified private hospitals in Cebu City, leaving their local municipalities behind with less manpower or worse, without a doctor.

The order for relocation was only supported by a request letter addressed to the Undersecretary of Health for Field Implementation and Coordination Team (FICT) for Visayas and Mindanao and an unsigned advanced copy of an office order.

The DTTB denounced the directive due to the following reasons: (1) the involved doctors have not been suitably informed through writing, (2) no proper consultation with the stakeholders was done prior to this directive, (3) detailed guidelines and protocols to protect the doctors in this temporary reassignment are not provided, and (4) it contradicts the thrust of the DTTB Program.

The DTTB added that the directive of reassigning public doctors to private hospitals is also a clear violation of the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers. According to Republic Act 7305, also known as the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers, Sec. 6. Transfer or Geographical Reassignment of Public health Workers:
“(c) a public health worker shall NOT be transferred and or reassigned, except when made in the interest of public service, in which case, the employee concerned shall be informed of the reasons therefore in writing.”

Furthermore, the DTTB said that the DOH failed to provide clear protocols to protect the DTTBs who will serve in private hospitals. They added that no clear information regarding the DTTB’s safety, protection, lodging, insurance, and specific duties have been provided, no proof of agreement between private institutions and the DOH were made available for discussion among all parties involved, and that such arrangement is subject to abuse by private institutions.

“The Department of Health must uphold its mandate of serving the Filipino people, especially the poor and the marginalized in the peripheries of society, with justice. 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 & service of an entire generation of doctors. We call on the DOH to form real partnerships with all its human resources for health so that we can begin to work together towards ending this terrible pandemic. We began this fight in the communities and we will continue to do so faithfully for as long as we can and as best as we can because that is who we are. – Doctors to the Barrios,” the position paper said.

The DTTBs from Region VI are expected to report from June 30 to September 5, 2020 while DTTBs from Region VII are set to report from June 26 to July 30, 2020.

The DTTB was launched in 1993 “to address the lack of doctors practicing in rural communities in the Philippines.” Since its creation, the DTTB said it has deployed 35 batches of doctors to various geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas in the Philippines to work in primary care and public health. Currently, 215 licensed physicians serving under the program are deployed in remote villages from Batanes to Tawi-tawi.