20M vaccinations, not enough funds: 2021 budget for COVID-19 vaccines 'insufficient' - solons

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 16 2020 07:24 AM

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. Dado Ruvic, Reuters/File

MANILA - The health department’s proposed budget for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines next year is insufficient to cover President Rodrigo Duterte’s target of getting at least 20 million poor Filipinos vaccinated, according to some lawmakers.

In Thursday’s budget deliberations at the House of Representatives, Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo pointed out that if a COVID vaccine costs P600 per unit, the proposed P2.5 billion will only cover 3.9 million Filipinos, or around 20 percent of the target .

“Ayon sa isang July report, kailangan two doses, pero parang ang naka-budget lang dito ay one dose,” the economist lawmaker said.

“Nakakapagtaka. Alam naman natin na ang 2021 budget ay isang COVID budget at alam naman natin na para maka-recover ang ekonomiya, ang number 1 na kailangan gawin ay i-handle ang pagkalat ng COVID. Paano nangyari na nakaligtaan natin na magbudget ng sapat na amount para sa COVID?” Quimbo asked.

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Zamboanga City Rep. Manuel “Mannix” Dalipe, who defended the Department of Health's (DOH) proposed budget, explained that the President’s pronouncement came after the budget proposal was drafted.

He pointed out the DOH would need additional funding of P10.4 billion to procure enough COVID vaccines for 20 million Filipinos.

“Noong ginagawa po ‘yung budget ng Department of Health, hindi pa po lumalabas ‘yung pronouncement ng Presidente. Kaya po ‘yung sinubmit ng DOH, ang proposal nila ay P2.5 billion. Pero noong nilabas po ni President Duterte 'yung kanyang desire to have 20 million Filipinos, doon po nagkaroon ng deperensya. S'yempre tataas din po ‘yung cost,” Dalipe said.

“Hindi po sapat. May kulang pa po tayong P10.42 billion at kung pwede sana madagdag ito. This is for the full requirements for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines to cover the 20 million population, in accordance with the directives of his Excellency President Duterte,” he added.

Quimbo noted that even the proposed P13-billion funding for COVID response under the DOH budget next year is too low.

The Department of Health's central office in Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

She recommended a review of the agency’s budget estimates.

“Para sa 2020 alone, total spending for the COVID response is P82 billion. Napakaliit naman po ng P13 billion na pinaplano for 2021,” Quimbo said. “Kailangan po natin magre-estimate ng tamang budget para sa COVID."

“We agree that we have to re-compute,” Dalipe replied.

Apart from augmenting the funding for COVID vaccines, Quimbo said the government should also allocate sufficient budget for data management of COVID cases and increase funding for mental health programs.

“Bakit po hindi kinonsider ang mental health na isang item po na dapat kasama sa COVID response? Alam naman po natin, ngayon ay napakarami pong nagkakaroon ng anxiety attacks, nagkakaroon ng depression. Dahil sa lockdown, nagkakaroon tayo ng cabin fever. Ang daming nawalan ng trabaho. Kaya ‘yan din po ay naging cause ng depression. Dahil sa social distancing, kumonti na ang face-to-face interaction. Ito ang dahilan kaya ang mental health has become an important concern,” she explained.

“Tingin ko dapat 1.5 billion ang ating i-propose na additional,” the lawmaker noted.

Quimbo also made this appeal regarding the DOH’s data management of COVID cases.

“Sana po ay tigilan na natin ang practice ng pagkakaroon ng distinction between 'fresh' and 'late' cases. Ang 'fresh' and 'late' ay hindi bagay sa paglarawan ng COVID cases,” she said.

Of the P679-million funding proposed by the DOH for data management next year, the DBM approved only P97 million, according to Dalipe. He added that for mental health programs, the DBM slashed the P367 million proposed by the DOH for 2021 to just P84 million.

MISPRIORITIZATION?

Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas lamented what appears to be a “misprioritization” in the proposed 2021 national budget, as 23 DOH hospitals received budget cuts for maintenance and other operating expenses in the agency’s proposed 2021 budget.

She said the slashed funding ranges from P4 million to P209 million.

“Bakit sa gitna ng COVID-19 crisis ay kakaltasan pa ng pondo ang mga pampublikong ospital na pinaka-accessible sa mga mahihirap na Pilipino?” Brosas asked.

“Ang DOH ay nagrequest ng P1 billion for MOOE, pero hindi po ito naaprubahan. Kaya ang DOH ay humihingi ng tulong sa Kongreso para matulungan silang madagdagan ang pondo ng DOH,” the agency’s sponsor, Nueva Ecija 2nd District Representative Micaela Violago, replied.

“Hindi po ba parang may misprioritization tayo dahil mas malaki ‘yung infra spending natin at saka ‘yung ating financing the military over health? Hindi ba may problema dito?” Brosas said.

“Sana po ay mapakinggan tayo ng lahat ng representante ng bayan natin, para naman ma-kunsensya naman po tayo sa inilalagay nating pondo para sa pangangailangan natin sa pangkalusugan,” she noted.

Quezon 4th District Rep. Helen Tan, who chairs the House committee on health, said the agency’s proposed budget was not enough.

Tan said the agency had to improve its data management and surveillance systems, which posed a problem at the onset of COVID-19 crisis.

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“Early on or until now, we have a problem on reporting of cases on COVID,” she said, adding majority of the members in the lower chamber agree with augmenting DOH’s budget as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.

As of Thursday, the Philippines has recorded 346,536 coronavirus infections, with 6,449 fatalities.

The number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 were 293,860, which include mild and asymptomatic cases, and some 46,227 patients are still currently ill with the virus.