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Sotto to DOH: Divert proposed P11.7-B contact tracing fund to COVID-19 treatment

The projected multi-billion budget requirement of the Department of Health (DOH) for hiring additional contact tracers amid the COVID-19 pandemic should instead be used for the actual treatment of infected patients, according to Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday.

"It will be wiser and more practical to divert the P11.7 billion for the treatment of patients. We need funds to treat our sick kababayans. Mas mahalagang gamitin na lang ang pondong ito para sa pagbili ng mga gamot at medical equipment na makakatulong sa paggaling ng mga pasyente," Sotto said.

He added that the DOH must be "more prudent" in using government funds as he expressed misgivings on the efficiency of hiring people who are not trained for the job.

"Contact tracing can only be effective if you use people who are trained in investigation like how they handled it in Baguio. If the DOH hires people who have no experience in investigation, then the program is practically useless," Sotto said.

"The people they will hire will just ask black and white questions and get answers that will not yield the needed information to help the government track down people who might have contaminated the virus," he added.

Instead of hiring new contact tracers, the DOH can collaborate with other government agencies which could deploy their employees for such task, according to the lawmaker.

"It can coordinate with other government offices and tap displaced employees to carry out the task at no additional cost to the government,” Sotto said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has recently proposed to mobilize around 400,000 barangay health workers and parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) to expedite contact tracing in the country.

The DOH earlier said it needs 95,000 more contact tracers, on top of the existing 38,000, to meet the World Health Organization's recommended ratio of one tracer in every 800 people.

The department also said it needs around P11.7 billion to hire these workforce for three months.

Contact tracers should at least have two years in college, and one year of relevant experience, according to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

"Ang gagawin ng contact tracers, hindi lang naman sila basta maghahanap ng tao, makikipag-usap sila sa mga tao, hihimukin nila ang mga tao para magbigay ng impormasyon and at the same time magbibigay sila ng education information sa mga tao," Vergeire said.

She added that it would be ideal if the contact tracer is also a resident of the area where he or she will be doing such tasks.

As of May 31, the Philippines recorded a total of 18,086 COVID-19 cases with 3,909 recoveries and 957 deaths. — RSJ, GMA News