Proposed program wants barangay health workers trained as nurses, doctors

By Candice Dominique Montenegro - GMANews.TV


Citing the continued exodus of Filipino doctors and nurses for jobs abroad, two lawmakers are proposing a program that would train barangay volunteers as health professionals.

House Bill 6536, authored by Akbayan party-list Representatives Risa Hontiveros and Walden Bello, seeks to establish the “Bibong BHW Education and Training Program” to train barangay health workers not just as midwives and physical therapists but also as doctors and nurses.

An explanatory note of the bill said tapping over 1.3 million front line workers across the nation would help address the crisis facing the Philippine health delivery system, as manifested in the closure of 200 hospitals during the past three years and partial closing of 800 more hospitals due to lack of doctors and nurses.

“That the Philippine health sector is experiencing a brain drain is no hidden fact,” said the bill, noting that between 1994 and 2003 alone around 85,000 Filipino nurses went abroad, while 3,000 doctors left the country as nurses from 2000 to 2005 and an additional 3,000 enrolled in nursing schools in 2006.

In a statement, Hontiveros also said that training local health volunteers is a better alternative to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s plan to import foreign health professionals to replace the 3,000 doctors who left in 2000-2005.

She added that the program is not only strategically in line with other health reform bills by the government but is also timely and urgent, especially with the pandemic outbreak of the A(H1N1) virus.

“Kapag nahaharap sa pandemic, mas-tumitindi ang sitwasyon dahil sa phenomenon ng labor migration ng health professionals [When faced with a pandemic, the situation becomes more grave because of the labor migration phenomenon of health professionals],” she said.

‘Step ladder’ training

As proposed, the Bibong BHW Program will follow the “step ladder” training program the University of the Philippines has initiated. 

The first step is a mandatory basic training on community health care delivery, while the second step is a more comprehensive training on community health care where they could specialize in midwifery, occupational therapy, pharmacology and so on.

The next two steps are more rigorous and specialized. The third step allows BHWs to take courses required in becoming a licensed nurse.

After finishing the 15-month program, volunteers will be eligible to take the Nursing Licensure Board Examination.

The fourth step allows BHWs to take another five-year program that includes courses on Medicine. Completion of this program will allow the volunteer to take the licensure exams for doctors.

The Bibong BHW Program bill also includes benefits for BHWs, such as full scholarships and socialized subsidies for the training, mandatory PhilHealth membership for all accredited BHWs, as well as an increase in their allowance from the current P500-P850 per month to a standard P4,500.

Teng Icoy, vice president for internal affairs of BHWs in the National Capital Region, said that the program could help volunteers like him become better at what they do. A community health worker who has been practicing reflexology for 13 years, Icoy says that the program will attract more people to become health volunteers.

“Walang age requirement para maging volunteer [there is no age requirement in becoming a volunteer],” he said. “As long as they undergo the basic course and their heart is in it, they can become barangay health workers.”

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