By William Casis

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on June 1 urged Health Sec. Francisco Duque III to set aside the planned hiring of contact tracers as an added measure to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“It will be wiser and more practical to divert the PHP11.7 billion for the treatment of patients. We need funds to treat our sick kababayan. Mas mahalagang gamitin na lang ang pondong ito para sa pagbili ng mga gamot at medical equipment na makakatulong sa paggaling ng mga pasyente,” Sotto said.

“What I am suggesting is for the DoH to be more prudent on how the country’s funds are being used. But of course, the decision is still with the President,” Sotto added.

Sotto expressed concerns that the multi-billion funding could go to waste and noted that this will be spent on people who are not trained for the job.

“You cannot just deploy anyone to do the job. Contact tracing can only be effective if you use people who are trained in investigation like how they handled it in Baguio. If the DoH hires people who have no experience in investigation, then the program is practically useless. The people they will hire will just ask black and white questions and get answers that will not yield the needed information to help the government track down people who might have contaminated the virus,” Sotto said.

Besides, he said “neophyte” contract tracers will still need to be taught how to go about contact tracing, which Sotto said will only delay the process.

The Senate President reiterated that the DoH can coordinate their contact tracing efforts with other government agencies which have the experience and manpower to go around the country.

“The DoH does not need to hire new people to do contact tracing. It can coordinate with other government offices and tap displaced employees to carry out the task at no additional cost to the government,” he stressed.

Duque has told senators in one of the hearings of the Senate Committee that the DoH needs PHP11.7 billion to fund contact tracing efforts against COVID-19. He said the Department plans to hire 130,000 contact tracers for three months to get a countrywide 1:800 ratio.