MANILA — A pittance and an insult was how some health workers viewed Department of Health's offer for volunteers who will join the ranks of overworked frontliners in the country's battle against the fast-spreading coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Under the DOH's call-out for volunteers, it said doctors, nurses, and nursing assistants will be paid P500 per day during the "month-long contribution.”
Most volunteers will be given accommodations and food but no benefits except the “insurance of a cash compensation of Php 100,000 to public and private health workers who may contract severe COVID-19 infection on duty, and Php 1 million to public and private health workers who may die fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Dr. Gene Nisperos of the Community Medicine Development Foundation said the amount “is too small, a pittance considering people are going to be put in harm's way."
“Also, against the backdrop of big money being released in the name of COVID, health personnel should be given what is due to them. that is how we truly respect them,” he said.
Nisperos said the DOH should hire the health workers instead for one year to give them proper compensation.
Dr. Ronnie Baticulon, who works for the Philippine General Hospital, said the offer “is an insult to an already demoralized and exhausted workforce.”
“It just clearly shows how little value and respect the Philippine government gives its doctors, nurses, staff who bear much of the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“I don’t know which is more appalling: that the DOH did not consult any healthcare workers before putting this out, or if they did, that nobody objected,” Baticulon added.
Meanwhile, doctors who volunteer for the telemedicine position, or those who would give consultation by phone, will not be getting any compensation.
Many expressed outrage upon reading the post.
“Altruism has no price. But if you put a tag on it, make sure it is not insulting,” Dr. Geneve R Reyes, secretary general of Health Action for Human Rights, told ABS-CBN News.
Reyes said the DOH is showing how it “disregards health workers.” She said the lack of personal protective equipment for some health workers is another insult.
“Why not hire?” she asked.
Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Health Workers, said the P500 allowance, as well as the free accommodation and food, is not enough.
“You are risking your life,” he said. “There are already a lot of health workers who are unwilling to go on duty because they are afraid of being exposed to COVID-19.”
Mendoza said the DOH should just fill up the tens of thousands of vacant plantilla positions in the public health sector.
He said they have long been calling for a salary hike for nurses, and the P500 daily allowance is not even at par with existing rates for nurses.
“Definitely P500 daily compensation for volunteer doctors and nurses is unjust, inconsiderate and exploitative,” said Maristela Abenojar, national president of Filipino Nurses United.
Abenojar said the “volunteer nurses scheme is exploiting our nurses as professionals and persons with dignity.”
The group pointed out that the government has enough funds. “Why get volunteers? Why are there not enough PPEs?” Abenojar said.
On Twitter, Dr. Jonathan Sy posted that at P500 a day, volunteer doctors will get just P7,000 for 14 days “for helping the sick and risking death.”
Other netizens expressed surprise that the rate is lower than minimum wage.
Several doctors have already died after caring for COVID-19 patients. The government has yet to reveal how many health professionals are now infected with the disease or have died because of it.
Other health workers have, meanwhile, reported experiencing discrimination in their communities as neighbors are scared they might be carrying the virus.
Health groups have blamed the government for not ensuring enough personal protective equipment for health workers.
As of Friday, there are 803 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, with 54 deaths and 31 recoveries.