Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippines will no longer have "doctorless" municipalities by the end of the year, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said yesterday.
Ona said 32 remaining "doctorless" and "very poor" municipalities in Abra, Ilocos Sur, Cagayan, Palawan, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan would have their own physician by December through the Department of Health's (DOH) Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) programme.
"The good news is that by the end of this year, all of these so-called doctorless municipalities will be filled," Ona told reporters.
Then Health Secretary Juan Flavier started the DTTB programme in 1993 after it was discovered that there were 271 towns that had no municipal physician for 10 years or more, resulting in high mortality rates in these areas.
However, Ona said the DOH was still trying to determine how to help these remaining towns so that they could someday afford to hire their own municipal doctors.
"We hope that in the not-so-distant future, we will be able to essentially have all our local governments become implementers of their own programme. There will no longer be any Doctor to the Barrios programme [directed by Manila]," he added.
"The programme aims to provide equitable healthcare services to all areas of the country by deploying competent, committed, community-oriented and dedicated physicians to serve inaccessible areas," Ona said.
He noted that some of the DTTB doctors could serve up 50,000 people, or more than double the doctor to population ratio of 1:20,000 set by the World Health Organisation.
The DTTB programme encourages new doctors to serve at least two years in far-flung fifth- or sixth-class municipalities that cannot afford to hire their own doctor.
"Since 1993, 553 physicians have served in 390 municipalities all over the Philippines. Presently, our doctors are serving in 68 municipalities in 38 provinces and 16 regions across the country," Ona said.
These doctors also get training from the Development Academy of the Philippines so that they could also get a degree in Master in Public Management, Major in Health Systems and Development.
"Local government units are the ones who should really be responsible for this but fifth- and sixth-grade municipalities are really quite poor and they claim that they cannot afford to pay [for their own doctor]. So, the national government assists them," Ona said.
He said a new batch of 114 DTTB physicians have just finished their preparations for deployment and 92 of them have already been dispatched to different areas in need of doctors.
"This is important because in our programme of Kalusugan Pangkalahatan [Universal Healthcare], primary care is very important. Meaning, these municipalities should have access to doctors," Ona said.
"Once all poor Filipinos are covered by PhilHeath, these doctors will also be earning. They will have financial sustainability," he added.
Ona said the DOH was also conducting a study to find out if there were municipalities that "graduated" from the programme or were able to secure their own doctor in the last two decades.