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

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Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday pressed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to set aside the planned hiring of contact tracers as an added measure to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sotto said the Department of Health (DOH) should instead use the P11.7 billion budget for the hiring of 130,000 contact tracers for the treatment of persons afflicted with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“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.

“What I am suggesting is for the DOH to be more prudent on how the country’s funds are being used. But of course, the decision is still with the President,” Sotto added.

Sotto expressed concerns that the multi-billion funding could go to waste and noted that this will be spent on people who are not trained for the job.

“You cannot just deploy anyone to do 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. 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,” Sotto said.

Besides, he said “neophyte” contract tracers will still need to be taught how to go about contact tracing, which Sotto said will only delay the process.

The Senate President reiterated that the DOH can coordinate their contact tracing efforts with other government agencies which have the experience and manpower to go around the country.

“The DOH does not need to hire new people to do contact tracing. It can coordinate with other government offices and tap displaced employees to carry out the task at no additional cost to the government,” he stressed.

Duque has told senators in one of the hearings of the Senate Committee of the Whole that the DOH needs P11.7 billion to fund contact tracing efforts against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). He said the department plans to hire 130,000 contact tracers for three months to cover a 1:800 ratio in the entire country./Stacy Ang

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