MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon called on the Department of Health (DOH) to be resourceful in its contact tracing and to drop its proposed P11.7 billion funding for the hiring of 130,000 individuals for the project.
In a statement on Tuesday, Drilon said government agencies should exercise prudent judgment in the use of public funds in consideration of the country’s growing budget deficit due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.
“Mag-ingat po tayo sa paggasta ng pera ng taumbayan lalo sa panahon ng krisis,” Drilon said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Given the increasing budget deficit, which is projected to reach P1.56 trillion or 8.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product this year, this P11.7 billion should better be put to good use,” he added.
Drilon also backed Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s call to the DOH to divert the fund for contact tracing to the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
He said the health agency should stop insisting on its plan when it can find other ways “to do contact tracing without hurting the government coffers.”
The senator reiterated his proposal for the DOH to tap around 400,000 barangay health workers and parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program to carry out contact tracing to save the government huge amount of money.
“Since they are already organized, they can be quickly mobilized as contact tracers,” he said.
“Our objective to prevent the virus from spreading is based on our ability to efficiently identify the infected and notify those he or she has made contact with. Hence, contact tracing is a must and should never be neglected,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson urged the DOH to adopt cheap, yet effective contact tracing solutions of local government units (LGU).
He cited for example the LGU of Carmona, Cavite which developed an app that can track users’ location history using a mobile phone’s GPS. It also allows uses to log interactions with other people and do self-assessment if they experience symptoms.
“In just a few days of implementation, the local government has already signed up 42,000 out of the municipality’s 97,557 residents,” Lacson said.
“For those without smartphones, the local government’s barangay and police personnel can input the information for them,” he added.
The senator also cited Baguio City’s contact tracing scheme, which relies on the geographical information system platform to plot the areas where possible COVID-19 carriers live
“With these technologies, we can potentially save P11.7 billion being asked by the Department of Health for contact tracers. I share Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s sentiment that there are more practical uses for the amount,” he said, noting that the budget could be used for livelihood programs for those severely affected by community quarantine triggered by the COVID-19 crisis.
The DOH earlier said it is planning to hire more than 95,000 contact tracers to meet the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of one tracer in every 800 people.
The proposed fund will be used to hire these contact tracers for three months.
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