Gov't policy chided for exodus of Filipino nurses

MANILA, Philippines - A health group has accused President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administrationb of driving Filipino nurses out of the country to work abroad, effectively neglecting areas in the Philippines in need of proper health care.

“For the longest time, Mrs. Arroyo has known about the dearth of health personnel in the rural areas but has done nothing about it and instead, encouraged Filipino nurses to leave and work abroad in droves," said Dr. Geneve E. Rivera, Health Alliance for Democracy (Head) secretary-general, in a statement on Tuesday.

Rivera said that the President has allowed nursing schools to “mushroom and mass-produce nurses" for the needs of other countries. Some figures have shown that the number of nursing students jumped from 30,000 in 2004 to almost 450,000 in 2008.

“Now, because so many nurses are in dire straits for being unemployed, she is taking advantage of the situation by offering them the NARS program, which is only temporary and may even hurt the rural communities in the long run," she said. 

The Nurses Assigned to Rural Areas or NARS program of the Arroyo administration is supposed to be a “stop-gap measure" against unemployment amid the financial crunch.

Under the NARS program, at least five nurses will be sent to each of the 1,000 poorest towns in the country and will be paid at least P8,000 monthly for a whole year. Arroyo also urged local governments to add at least P2,000 to the nurses’ salaries as allowances.

But according to Head, Arroyo is just exploiting the large number of skilled but unemployed and inexperienced nurses by offering them temporary jobs with lower pay rather than “a tenured position with the appropriate compensation." 

Rivera added that Arroyo just wants to show that she is doing something to address the health care needs of Filipinos and the worsening unemployment rate. 

“Unfortunately, the real bottom line for Mrs. Arroyo is still to force Filipino nurses to work abroad and send dollar-denominated remittances to stave off the effects of the global financial crisis," she said.

President Arroyo has previously said that she hopes for a day when working abroad would only be an option for Filipinos.

“Nawa’y dumating ang araw na ang pagtrabaho sa ibayong dagat ay isang career option lamang, at di ang tanging choice para sa masipag na Pilipino," she told Filipino expatriates during her visit to Qatar last week.

[I hope the time comes when working overseas would only seem like a career option and not the only choice for hardworking Filipinos]

Instead of the NARS program, the health group wants the Arroyo government to open plantilla positions for nurses to work in the rural areas and in public hospitals nationwide, thereby encouraging them to stay and serve in the countryside.

It called for the immediate implementation of the Nursing Act of 2002 and the Magna Carta of Health Workers so that nurses who are currently employed in the public sector will be motivated to stay. 

“The Arroyo government should face the issue of health care squarely, rather than offering carrot-and-stick approaches," said Rivera.

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