Many healthworkers were enraged upon hearing of DOH’s compensation package, which they described as a “pittance.” Photo from ABS-CBN News
Culture Spotlight

A doctor’s response to DOH’s PHP500 offer: ‘show us why this is all you can afford’

Dr. GK Galvez Tan penned a strongly-worded statement in response to the Department of Health’s offer of a PHP 500 daily allowance for volunteer healthcare workers. BY JACS T. SAMPAYAN
| Mar 29 2020

The Department of Health (DOH) recently called for medical professionals and practitioners to volunteer in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. In exchange, the DOH says, it will give free food, lodging, and a daily allowance of PHP 500—an offer that angered many in the field, with words like “pittance” and “insulting” being thrown around retaliatory posts on social media.

One doctor framed his response in the form of a manifesto. In a Facebook post, radiologist Dr. GK Galvez Tan says, “It's not about the money. Not quite. As some colleagues have said, most doctors would have done the job for free.” Radiologists play a crucial role in the monitoring of COVID-19 positive patients. Since it is a respiratory illness, chest X-rays or CT scans of the lungs are regularly used.

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A graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, Galvez Tan is a CT scan and MRI specialist at Cardinal Santos Medical Center and the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center. He accomplished his basic residency radiology training at Philippine General Hospital, which is currently one of the hospitals treating patients with COVID-19.

“It's not entirely about how much the DOH is giving. It's about how much they may be holding back,” the doctor writes. “If this is indeed all they can give, I want them to show us, point by point, peso by peso, why this is all they can afford.”

 

Where’s the money?

Dr. Galvez Tan writes he and his fellows know the DOH has the money, but they do not know where it is going.

“Is it going toward better infrastructure, more testing labs, more field hospitals, more community quarantine centers, better transport networks for frontliners and patients? Are the savings going toward a massive push toward realigning industries to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) so hospitals don't have to rely on volunteers and donations?” he asks, point by point. “Is the money going to pay to expand charity services for patients with non-COVID related conditions whose treatments will have been displaced or delayed? Are they going to use the funds to strengthen communities by conducting risk assessments, training community health workers, and tapping local resources?”

The doctor is the son of Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, a former Health Secretary under the Fidel V. Ramos administration. “He has already a good number of his doctor-mentors and professors, colleagues, peers and friends in the medical profession dying and currently struggling with COVID-19 infection,” the elder Galvez Tan tells ANCX. 

Former Health Secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan fully agrees with the sentiments of his son GK.

That there have been deaths and affliction among frontliners is clear, says the former cabinet member, but the DOH must also make it clear to frontline doctors and nurses they have the full support of department resources—PPEs, expanded COVID-19 testing, logistics—to fulfill their duties. “I fully support the manifesto of my son GK and I share his sentiments!” Dr. Jaime says.

 

DOH response

If healthcare workers are expected to risk their lives for cheap, Dr. GK continues in his statement, they should at least have the dignity of “knowing that their nation was behind them, fighting for them on every front, at every level.” Healthcare workers, he says, should be confident the entire machinery of the country and the government was turned toward helping them to win, that the cause was more important that political careers and propaganda.

“Let them know that this pittance is all that is left in the open hand of a nation that has exhausted everything else,” Dr. GK concludes. “Because there is no greater indignity than the lives of our brothers and sisters, mentors and students, parents and children, being sold cheaply while our leaders held their hands, stuffed with bills, behind their backs. We deserve to know.”

Yesterday, Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire apologized to the public on behalf of the DOH in a press briefing.

The DOH is working on measures to increase compensation for health volunteers, she said. “Humihingi rin po kami ng tawad kung ang impresyon na naibigay ng PHP 500 daily allowance ay ganito lamang ang halaga na binibigay natin sa ating healthcare workers. Hindi po ito mas lalayo pa sa katotohanan,” Vergeire clarified. She explained that the amount was based on protocol for outbreak response.

Vergeire says that a supplemental budget had been greenlighted, the majority of which is allotted for the procurement of PPEs. The Undersecretary hopes that, as the allocations are fixed, more money would be earmarked for the compensation of healthcare workers and their benefit packages.