CAMARINES Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has welcomed the final approval by the House of Representatives of a legislative proposal on the establishment of a Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), which has now become even more urgent owing to the alarming rise in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the country partly because of the emergence of new and more infectious variants of the coronavirus.
Villafuerte called on the Senate to speed up the passage of its counterpart measure to augment the existing medical workforce now attending to COVID-19 cases, following this week’s revelation by Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello about a shortage of nurses and other medical personnel attending to COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
According to reports, Bello bared plans to reject Germany’s request for 15,000 Filipino nurses, in light of a study by a technical working group (TWG)—comprising personnel from the Departments of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and of Health (DoH), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) showing that health facilities taking care of coronavirus patients are running out of nurses and other medical personnel.
The House recently approved on third and final reading House Bill (HB) 8999, or the proposed “Medical Reserve Corps Act”.
Villafuerte was among the primary authors of the consolidated measure.
Under the bill, the MRC, which would be under the supervision of the DOH, shall be composed of licensed physicians, including those who are no longer practicing in the hospital setting; licensed allied professionals; and medical students who have completed four years of medical course, graduates of medicine as well as registered nurses.
“We should recognize the urgency of swiftly passing this measure, not only to prevent our health workers from getting overwhelmed by the recent surge in COVID infections, but to strengthen our capability to contain similar disease outbreaks in the future,” Villafuerte said.
The coronavirus sickened almost 1,194,000 and caused the death of over 20,100 of them in the country as of this week.
Under the House-approved measure, the President of the Philippines, upon the DOH’s recommendation, may also order the mobilization of the MRC to complement the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Medical Corps “in case of the declaration of a state of war, state of lawless violence or state of calamity.”
The bill provides that members of the MRC be covered by labor laws and entitled to “all the pay and allowances, medical care, hospitalization and other privileges and benefits” during their deployment, and receive all their existing benefits from their regular jobs during the mobilization period.
Villafuerte said the measure seeks to uphold the role of medical and health-related personnel in nation-building. Being involved in the frontlines of a public health emergency is a patriotic act, and the reserve corp’s vital role necessitate that their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being are protected,” Villafuerte said.
He has also authored HB 7281, which seeks reforms in nursing education, including the introduction of basic and postgraduate programs that would train and encourage nurses to work in communities and seek leadership or management positions in their profession in local hospitals instead of leaving for overseas jobs.
Earlier, Villafuerte called on the government to complement its stricter mobility restrictions with an aggressive PDITR— Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate—drive as a more decisive strategy to contain the latest surge in coronavirus infections while it awaits the arrival of the bulk of the ordered anti-virus jabs for its vaccine rollout plan.
Villafuerte said “a more aggressive PDITR drive alone is our best shot at preventing future infection surges, especially with the advent of more transmissible COVID-19 variants.”
Hence, Villafuerte welcomed the new government target of conducting 130,000 to 160,000 COVID-19 tests per day via the combined use of reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and rapid antigen tests.
From the daily average of 50,000 tests, the DoH has increased the target to at least 130,000 after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) authorized the use of antigen testing, especially in Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces where there have been an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.
“Although the use of antigen testing is long overdue, this new policy is nonetheless a welcome development that will hopefully clear the way to the implementation of a more aggressive PDITR strategy for the government to eventually temper, if not reverse, the fresh surge in coronavirus infections,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte supported the calls by health experts to ramp up the daily tests to 130,000, using both PCR and rapid antigen testing methods.