As the first week of the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) draws to a close, the DOH and Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) reached a milestone together when it presented the joint collaboration on the recalibrated strategy for the nation’s COVID response in today’s forum. This was in response to the call of medical societies for a “time out”.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III discussed the hiring mechanism of healthcare workers, newly signed active transport policy, implementation of CODE, and the launching of the One Hospital Command which also happened this week.

According to Secretary Duque, additional funding of P300 million has been secured this week for the department’s emergency hiring program, on top of the remaining P142 million. He noted that the hiring program has reached about half the estimated need for healthcare workers in NCR, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon.

In addition, the Bayanihan Act II has recently passed the second reading and has provisions to renew the benefits package for healthcare workers. Among the benefits to be included are the P10,000.00 risk allowance for private healthcare workers per month for the duration of the pandemic, special risk allowance for public healthcare workers per month, and hazard pay per day of actual duty for the duration of the pandemic. In addition, accommodation, transportation, life insurance, and compensation for mild to critical cases as well as deaths will also be provided to healthcare workers.

The Secretary also highlighted the launch of the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic, or CODE teams, where the DOH will take a more active role in providing LGUs with support. CODE is patient- and community-focused, where DOH will assist the LGUs through community engagement activities to promote preventive behaviors, active case finding via house-to-house symptom checks, RT-PCR testing for symptomatic individuals, and an Oplan Kalinga application when either quarantine or isolation is needed.

To help relieve the pressure off our healthcare workers in high-risk areas in NCR, Regions IV-A, and III, the drafting of a temporary substitution team from other provinces began immediately,” said Sec. Duque. “To date, 74 healthcare workers from Luzon have signed up for the temporary substitution team along with 28 from Visayas and Mindanao.”

With the launching of the One Hospital Command Center (OHCC), health facility referral, medical transport facility, patient pick-ups, and use of critical care services will be more efficient. “Through this, we aim to reduce the time it takes for Filipinos to reach hospitals,” Sec Duque said.

Health Undersecretary Lilibeth C. David further discussed in detail the target areas including the strengthened response on hospital workforce deficiency, shift to active case finding, using the right test for the right reason,, strictly implementing isolation measures, ensuring transportation and workplace safety, and improving public compliance with self-protection,industries.

Among the ongoing initiatives explained by Undersecretary David are the integration of telemedicine to improve primary healthcare response amid the pandemic, and sector-specific workplace guidelines, which the DOH and HPAAC will develop together.

Representatives from HPAAC also expressed support and shared updates on the ongoing collaboration with DOH in recalibrating the nation’s COVID response.

Lubos kaming nagagalak dahil naging kabahagi kami sa pagbuo ng isang komprehensibong programa para mapigilan ang pagdami ng mga COVID cases sa NCR,” expressed Dr. Marion Panaligan, President of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), regarding the collaboration between HPAAC and DOH.

Meanwhile, Dr. Maricar Limpin, Vice President of PCP called for the cooperation of different government agencies and the public, emphasizing that rising above the pandemic entails a whole-of-government, whole-of-nation approach. “Maski noong umpisa pa lang, nakita ho namin na nasa tamang direksyon po kayo [DOH], except siguro hindi po nai-implement sa mga local government units” Limpin stressed. “Hindi lang po Department of Health ang kailangan dito na kumilos, kailangan talaga the whole of government.

Over the past week, the discussion between HPAAC and DOH covered the mechanisms of active transport policy, plans for a call center navigation system in the local government unit level to ensure that each household has access to healthcare without flocking the hospitals, effective implementation of workplace protocols as a complement to the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Labor and Employment, and a national government-enabled, LGU-led, people-centered healthcare response.

The DOH and HPAAC agreed to continue working together in the implementation of these initiatives and in further iterating strategies when necessary. The department is also looking to develop more impactful interventions together with HPAAC throughout the national response and beyond.

In concluding the joint presser, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire stressed DOH’s support for the plea of the medical societies.

“We are one with HPAAC when they pronounced that we are the first line of defense as we protect ourselves from contracting the virus, while we must consider our healthcare workers as the last line of defense. In ensuring we don’t overwhelm our last line of defense, we must act now,” Undersecretary Vergeire concluded.