'Doctors to barrios' program up for review

MANILA, Philippines - Health Secretary Enrique Ona has ordered a review of the Department of Health’s Doctors to the Barrios Program (DTBP), saying that it has been abused by local government leaders.

Ona said the DTBP should have only been a “stop-gap measure” to address the lack of doctors in some towns.

But after 20 years, most of the local government units (LGUs) that have been getting doctors through the program are still not hiring their own physicians.

“I want the whole program reviewed so that we can initiate needed reforms. I observed that the situation is the same in many of the communities for the last 20 years. This means they are not paying attention to the mechanics on how to keep doctors,” he added.

The DTBP was introduced by former Health secretary and senator Juan Flavier in early ’90s. The DOH hires up to 300 doctors every year and deploys them to towns without physicians mostly in poor and remote areas.

Each doctor is committed to serve in the community for two years. The doctor receives a gross pay of P54,000 from the DOH but they also get additional honorarium, depending on the LGUs where they serve.

Doctors are usually requested in the Cordillera, Samar, Zamboanga Sibugay, interland islands in Northern Mindanao, Northern Cotabato, Saranggani, South Cotabato, General Santos City and Cotabato City.

There are also requests for doctors in Basilan and Tawi-tawi but there are no takers because of the peace and order situation in these areas.

Ona said the DOH has observed that the LGUs requesting for DTBP doctors are almost the same in the past two decades, indicating that they have become dependent on the program.

“I think our DTBP doctors should be getting less as the years pass by but this is not the case. For me, the mayors or the governments should also come up with a program that will attract their doctors to stay. That is their responsibility, not the national government,” he added.

Ona clarified that he does not intend to abolish the program. He only wants to study the incentive packages offered to DTBP doctors so that those serving in fifth or sixth class municipalities, for instance, get better compensation.

“We have around 3,000 new doctors every year so there is really no shortage of doctors. So what we have to do is to make it attractive for them to stay in the community,” he said.

“Many doctors have the desire to work in small communities but when they get married and have their own family, they begin to think how they can feed them well and send their children to school,” he added.

The DOH chief also proposed that LGUs offer scholarships to poor but deserving students to study medicine with a payback period of 10 years to serve in the community. (From Philstar.com)