Auditors flag COVID-19 vaccination lapses, low DOH fund utilization

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 16 2022 03:44 PM

A woman receives her first booster shot against COVID19 at a vaccination site inside the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX) on July 27, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
A woman receives her first booster shot against COVID19 at a vaccination site inside the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX) on July 27, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Commission on Audit flagged has lapses in the Department of Health's COVID-19 vaccination drive and its "low utilization" of funds which could be "counter-beneficial" to the pandemic response. 

In its 2021 audit report on the DOH, the COA noted 32,724 wasted COVID-19 shots and 12,854 vials of nearly expired vaccines.

The COA said notable vaccine wastage was reported in Metro Manila, Ilocos Region, Central Luzon, Zamboanga, Soccsksargen, and the Cordilleras due to broken vials, temperature excursion, under-dosing, and spillage, among others.

"The delays in the administration of these vaccines may increase the probability of losing its efficacy and ultimately may result in wastage of government resources," the auditors said.

The DOH, meanwhile, explained to the auditors that wasted vaccines had shorter shelf life of 6 months. 

The same audit report stated that for 2021, there were some P6.648 billion unobligated COVID-19 funds and P23.656 billion undisbursed funds. 

"The low utilization thereof can be counter-beneficial to the continuing efforts of the DOH towards ensuring access to basic public health services to all Filipinos and controlling the spread of COVID- 19," the audit team said.

The DOH management told the COA that causes of low utilization of funds included cancellation and failure of procurement, failed bidding, delays in the signing of memoranda of agreement, and delivery of products not in accordance with specifications, existing health restrictions and protocols.
 
OTHER DEFICIENCIES 

The Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management had procured pandemic-related items using funds transferred by the DOH. 

But auditors noted non-receipt of items amounting to P18.557 million by recipients indicated in property transfer reports, as well as delivery of items amounting to P166.21 million to agencies other than the intended recipients.

These deficiencies included the delivery of surgical masks to Caraga instead of Northern Mindanao, the report said. 

"The foregoing conditions showed weak controls in safeguarding government assets, which exposed the said assets to risks of wastage, loss or misuse," the audit team said.

The DOH management said in its response to the audit team that it has requested an explanation from the Office of Civil Defense. 

"The OCD responded that deliveries of medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and other related materials were successfully made," the audit team noted.

In its report, the COA also noticed improper charging by Culion Santiarium and General Hospital of medicines and personal protective equipment of health workers to patients at marked-up prices.

Around 198 vials of Remdesivir and Tocilizumab were charged to patients with mark-up totaling P227,417, according to the audit report.

However, the DOH reasoned out that the medicines were procured through emergency purchase and their prices were already adjusted upon receipt of the administrative order on price control on COVID-19 medicines.

The audit team also noted deficiencies in the distribution of mobile x-ray machines worth P55.2 million, which indicated a lack of adequate assessment and weakness in safeguarding government resources.

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and another DOH hospital were cited as identified recipients and had to turn down the machines because of lack of space and existing units of the same equipment, respectively.

"The refusal of the said OUs to receive the equipment despite their inclusion in the distribution list gives the impression that these recipients were not properly consulted by the DOH prior to the procurement," the audit team said.

The audit team also found deficiencies in the payment of COVID-19 benefits and allowances to healthcare workers amounting to P908.019 million without proper documentation, casting doubts on the recipients' eligibility.

The DOH agreed to the recommendation of the audit team to direct the heads of its agencies to submit the necessary supporting documents to prove the entitlement of the healthcare workers.

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, who also served as undersecretary to former secretary Francisco Duque, received a copy of the report on July 29, 2022.

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