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‘Pandemic budget’ pushed

SENATOR Risa Hontiveros pushed for a P48.7billion hike in the Department of Health’s (DOH) proposed budget to put the health sector in the top 3 budget allocations for 2021 as the country continues to reel from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a health emergency. If we want to win against COVID-19 and finally recover as a country, our national budget next year must be a pandemic budget, no ifs and buts,” Hontiveros said.

“We are fighting a difficult battle against an unprecedented health crisis. If we want to win against COVID-19 and finally recover as a country, our national budget next year must be a pandemic budget, no ifs and buts,” Hontiveros remarked as she urged her colleagues at the Senate Committee on Finance hearing on the DOH budget.

Hontiveros believes the current budget allocation is insufficient to properly sustain the country’s pandemic response alongside regular health operations.

The increase, according to the senator, aims to improve healthcare services nationwide, especially for critical health programs under the DOH.

“Sa nilaki-laki ng P4.5 trillion na proposed budget ng bansa sa 2021, ni wala man lang sa top-3 na mga ahensya na may pinakamalaking pondo ang DOH. Parang hindi tayo nasa top 20 na bansa na may pinakamadaming kaso ng COVID-19 sa buong mundo. Ano ito, isasawalang-bahala na lang natin ang mga nagkakasakit at namamatay na Pilipino?” Hontiveros said, adding that this would empower the agency to “finally defeat the greatest health crisis ever faced by Filipinos.”

Hontiveros’ proposed P48.7 billion increase in the DOH outlay aims to provide the necessary funding to upgrade various aspects of the county’s healthcare system based on the projected amounts initially proposed by the health department to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

P22 billion of her proposal, Hontiveros said, puts a spotlight on programs critical to the country’s health response against the COVID-19 pandemic. She questioned the “shocking” budget cuts, such as the slashed operations budget for National and Subnational Laboratories which only received P289 million, instead of the DOH’s request of P1.3 billion. Local Health Systems Development and Assistance, which promotes health at the community level, she said, only received P353 million of its requested P1.7 billion.

“Our priorities continue to be questionable. The laboratories are crucial to our test-trace-treat pandemic response, but we only allocated 22% of what they need to be fully operational,” she said. “The strengthened barangay and community-based health programs are our ‘missing links’ in battling COVID-19, but we’ve weakened our budget disproportionately for this as well.”

Meanwhile, the programs for prevention and control of communicable diseases were only awarded P5.98 billion from the requested P15 billion, which Hontiveros says is crucial to “prevent further uncontrollable outbreaks from worsening the country’s health situation”.

Hontiveros also said that the DOH’s budget for human resources for health deployment should be brought up to address the issue of lack of health workers responding to the fast rise in COVID-19 cases. “This will not only allow the hiring of more health workers, but also ensure that they will receive more meaningful salaries”, she explained.

Apart from health programs to beat the COVID-19 pandemic, Hontiveros lamented that funding for the prevention and control of other “killer” non-communicable diseases was also deprioritized, having been awarded a “measly” P 373 million from the requested P1.33 billion:

“Hindi porket may COVID ay wala nang Pilipino na pinahihirapan ng mga sakit gaya ng tuberculosis at iba pang infectious diseases, kanser, at mga non-communicable diseases tulad ng hypertension at diabetes. There are other emerging health emergencies now, such as the rise in cases of measles, malnutrition, mental health issues and even teenage pregnancies, which we also have to deal with seriously,” she said.

Hontiveros said P26 billion of her proposal is meant to increase the funding of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to cover the health costs of the 7.6 million newly-unemployed. “Our health budget has to adjust to the needs of the millions who literally cannot afford to get sick. We have to be equipped to attend to the needs of the most vulnerable,” she said.

“Walang magiging ‘new and better normal’ sa 2021 kung anemic ang budget natin para sa kalusugan sa gitna ng isang pandemiya. If we want to ensure steady economic recovery and continue development, we have to learn to invest more in the health of the Filipino people,” Hontiveros concluded.

Publication Source :    People's Journal
Marlon Purificacion
Journalist At Large