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Lawmakers propose creation of medical reserve corps to boost pandemic response

Amid shortage of health-care workers, lawmakers are pushing for the passage of a bill creating a Medical Reserve Corps for deployment in case of health emergencies.

In House Bill (HB) No. 2, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, Tingog Reps. Yedda Marie Romualdez and Jude Acidre said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the inability of the country’s health-care system to cope with the surge of patients needing medical care due to lack of medically-trained personnel.

Citing latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the lawmkaers said there were six medical doctors per 10,000 Filipinos in 2017, a ratio lower than the WHO-recommended 10 physicians per 10,000 population.

“Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, Singapore has 23 doctors per 100,000. Vietnam, Thailand and impoverished Timor Leste have each eight doctors per 100,000 people. In developed countries such as Italy and the United States, the doctor-population ratio is 40 and 26 per 10,000 population, respectively,” the bill’s explanatory note said.

Currently, the lawmakers said the country has a shortage of 290,000 health workers, which is aggravated by the annual migration of some 13,000 health-care professionals.

“Against this backdrop, this bill aims to enhance the capacity of our country to produce and call on the needed manpower and expand its human health resources in times of disasters and public health emergencies of both national and local scale through the mobilization of a medical reserve force specifically trained to supplement the existing human health resources to ease the burden in our health-care system,” the explanatory note added.

It said that the primary mission of the proposed Medical Reserve Corps is to support the public health system in times of health emergencies.

The reserve group would consist of licensed physicians, including those who have retired and those who are no longer practicing in the hospital setting, medical students who have completed their first four years of medical course, graduates of medicine, and registered nurses.

The proposed Medical Reserve Corps would be under the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH).

It would be given compulsory basic training and continuing training on responding to different national and local health emergency scenarios.

The bill provides that the MRC “shall be organized, trained, developed, and maintained so as to ensure its readiness to immediately respond to the call to service.”

It mandates the DOH to maintain a registry of all medical reservists, including their addresses, contact numbers and similar information, and to issue MRC members’ identification cards.

The reserve corps may be mobilized to conduct contact tracing and monitor suspected cases during disease outbreaks, help ensure quarantine measures, and provide logistics and manpower support for large-scale disaster and health emergency operations.

The bill provides for the establishment of mobilization centers in every province, where medical reservists can register for duty.

The President, upon recommendation of the DOH may mobilize the MRC to complement the military’s medical corps “in case of a declaration of a state of war, state of lawless violence or state of calamity.”

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