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Health workers denounce P170-million cut in RITM budget

Health workers denounce P170-million cut in RITM budget

MANILA, Philippines — The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) staged a protest on Monday in front of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) to denounce the P170-million cut in the budget for the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) of their National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for 2022.

“In this trying period of pandemic, we cannot fathom that despite the urgent need for a higher health budget, this government has even managed to reduce our hospital budget,” Rodolfo Perez, vice president of the RITM Employees Association – AHW (RITMEA-AHW), said in a statement.

“The big cut in the MOOE of RITM as one of the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) in the country would cause a big negative impact especially that RITM is an expert laboratory for infectious and emerging diseases such as Ebola, Sars-Cov-2, and the deadly coronavirus disease,” he added.

The health workers also expressed fear that the cutting of the MOOE budget for NRL was the government’s way of preparing for the abolition of the RITM.

According to them, the Duterte administration is now railroading House Bill (HB) 9560 — “The Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control (PCDC) Act.”

HB 9560 proposes the amalgamation of several agencies currently under the Department of Health, including the RITM, into the PCDC.

The other DOH agencies are the Epidemiology Bureau, the STD-AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory, the Passive International Health Surveillance and Development of Communication Methods under the Bureau of Quarantine.

This means RITM and other agencies and bureaus will be abolished because they will now be under PCDC, said the AHW.

“If RITM is abolished, the number of hospitals catering and specializing in the treatment of infectious and tropical diseases will be reduced. What will happen to the displaced health workers then? And most importantly, where will the poor patients with tropical diseases go?” Perez said.

“Right now, it’s not just the virus that threatens us, nor the withheld COVID benefits, but the imminent abolition of our hospital and the effect of losing our jobs. What kind of government do we have where in the midst of a pandemic, many health workers will definitely lose their jobs and the patients will surely lose the free health services of RITM?” he added.

The health workers also called for the immediate release of their unpaid meal, accommodation, and transportation allowance.

“Likewise, the DOH has not even allocated [a] budget for our COVID-related benefits in the 2022 proposed DOH budget while we are still in the state of health emergency. This is a great insult and a clear abandonment of the DOH and this government to us who are at the forefront fighting this pandemic,” RITMEA-AHW President Romeo Garcia said.

“DOH and the Duterte government are definitely not on our side to fulfill its mandate and protect us. This causes immense demoralization among our ranks. Many nurses and health workers have already resigned and filed for early retirement due to the government’s negligence,” he added.

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