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A timely Legislation

The President recently signed into law Republic Act No. 11509 “DOCTOR PARA SA BAYAN ACT”. This is indeed very refreshing news and an optimistic prospect at this uncertain time where everyone is worried and anxious especially when reports from tri-media are mostly depressing and disheartening, to say the least—“the dropping of the ball” of Pfizer’s vaccine, the controversial inoculations of soldiers ahead of medical doctors and nurses serving in the front line, and the 100,000 Chinese in POGO jabbed with the smuggled vaccine, among other imbecilic indiscretions of this lethargic administration.

The government seems to bungle up its strategy—if there is one, in the containment of this pandemic because nothing conveys to that direction. However, this write-up is not at all about government missteps—a lot has been written and said about these same subjects in the recent past. Adding more fire to it will just be a mere litany of its failures and an exercise in futility, for the inveterate liars in the government are expert manipulators of news, anyway.

Instead, the above-mentioned Law—“An Act Establishing a Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program for Deserving Students and Appropriating Funds Therefor”—is given more importance here by virtue of its impact to the microcosm of health services in this time of pandemic and for the years to come.

The ratio of doctors to population in the Philippines as of April 2020 is one of the lowest in the world. While Metro Manila tops the list with 10 doctors for every 10,000 people, well within World Health Organization (WHO) recommended doctors to population ratio; other regions don’t come near it. Among the seventeen (17) Regions, Bicol is number 5 from the bottom list with 2.4 doctors for every 10,000 people. At the very bottom is Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) with a ratio of 0.8 doctors for every 10,000 people! This statistics shows that most doctors are concentrated in Metro Manila, or elsewhere in big cities such as Cebu and Davao, but scanty in the relatively smaller provinces. The comparative analysis here is not on the basis of land area but in terms of the population count of the correlated localities.

Sending a son or daughter desirous to enter medical school is very strenuous if not prohibitive even to a middle-income family. Millions of Pesos are spent on this aspiration. Oftentimes, families resort to borrowing money from the loan sharks when educational funds are depleted because of other unexpected school requirements adding more financial burden to the already tight family budget—the fundamental reason why many of them do not venture into sending their children to become a doctor. Those who pursued and produced one in the family, however, expect their son or daughter to go to a lucrative practice in a big City and earn big buck fast (after all the millions of Pesos invested in their education) rather than serve in a rural community where income from practice is relatively much lesser than the former. This is the main reason also for the big discrepancy and gap between Metro Manila and the rest of the Regions in terms of the number of doctors to their respective population ratio.

This Law intends to level the playing field by establishing a medical scholarship especially to the underprivileged individuals, and in other respect, create opportunities for them to become doctors under contract to render service in government public health institutions in their respective hometowns, or in any municipalities and provinces deemed critically in need of medical services.

In this regard, municipalities without government physicians are given priority in the selection and award of medical scholarship—“this law seeks to insure that every municipality in the country will have a medical doctor working for the people”, said Cong. Gabby Bordado of the Third District of Camarines Sur, the co-author of this Law. Incidentally, he played a pivotal role as well in the crafting of the final form of the Bill having been appointed by the House Leadership as a member of the bicameral committee for this purpose.

This landmark legislation will categorically complete the long-desired structural reform of the nation’s quality health services from this time forth—a laudable act indeed by the authors of this Law. Congratulations for a job well done!

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