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P500M for anti-Rabies drive

The National Rabies Prevention and Control Program gets P500 million in fresh funding next year, Rep. Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan) said on Saturday, on the occasion of World Rabies Day.

“The extra funding for the program is meant to enable the country to finally eradicate rabies,” said Defensor, vice chairman of the House health committee. 

The program’s new allocation is lodged in the budget of the Department of Health in the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2020 that the House has approved, Defensor said.

The DOH aims to eliminate human deaths from rabies by next year, and to declare the Philippines Rabies-Free by 2022.

As of 2018, the number of “rabies-free areas” in the country reached 62, up from 49 in 2017, the DOH said in a report submitted to Congress.

Though not a leading cause of mortality in the country, rabies still kills some 300 Filipinos every year, according to the DOH. 

The viral disease is transmitted from animals (mainly dogs) to people. It is spread to humans through close contact with the infected dog’s saliva via bites or scratches.

Rabies is 100 percent fatal and yet 100 percent preventable with vaccination in animals and people, according to the World Health Organization.

In May, a 24-year-old Norwegian woman died after catching rabies from the bite of a stray puppy that she rescued while vacationing in the Philippines three months earlier. 

The woman failed to seek immediate post-exposure vaccination. She became sick and eventually died after returning to Norway.

Defensor reminded local governments and pet owners of their obligations under the Anti-Rabies Act of 2007.

“Local governments are duty-bound under the law to conduct periodic mass vaccinations of dogs, establish databases for registered and inoculated dogs, control homeless and unvaccinated dogs and conduct public information drives to prevent and control rabies,” Defensor said. 

“Pet owners are required to have their dogs regularly vaccinated against rabies, submit their dogs for mandatory registration, maintain control over their dogs at all times, report dog biting incidents inside 24 hours and assist dog bite victims,” Defensor said. 

The WHO commemorates Sept. 28 of every year as World Rabies Day “to raise awareness about rabies prevention and to highlight progress in defeating this horrifying disease.”

 Sept. 28 also marks the death anniversary of Louis Pasteur, the French chemist and microbiologist who developed the first rabies vaccine.

Meanwhile, as various disease outbreaks increasingly challenge the country’s health care system, front-liner barangay health workers should be included in the list of barangay officials who receive a fixed allowance, Senator Francis Pangilinan said Saturday. 

“Health is a priority for the Filipino family, especially in these times when preventable diseases that harm babies and children are back. Many who can’t go to the hospital and doctor, especially those in remote areas, rely on the barangay health worker,” Pangilinan said in Filipino. 

Over the past year, the country has been visited by a series of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, dengue, and polio. 

Cases of another vaccine-preventable disease, diphtheria, have been confirmed by the Department of Health recently. 

“Barangay health workers are the primary health-care providers in communities. They’re really in the front-line,” the senator added.

He enumerated their services that include maternal, newborn, and child healthcare; health and nutrition education; family planning services; and promotion of good hygiene and sanitation practices. 

In barangay health centers, they assist and support to physicians, nurses, and midwives.

In Senate Bill 261, Pangilinan seeks to amend the Local Government Code—and effectively Republic Acts 6942 (Increasing Insurance Benefits of Local Government Officials Act of 1990), and 7883 (Barangay Health Workers Benefits and Incentives Act of 1995)—to expand the coverage of benefits and incentives for barangay officials to include barangay health workers, who provide health-care services and serve as health educators.

“In this measure, barangay health workers will enjoy the same benefits and incentives as other barangay officials,” he said of the almost 200,000 barangay health workers (government figures as of 2009).

Republic Act 7883 defines barangay health workers as those who have been trained and accredited and who voluntarily renders health-care services in accordance with guidelines of the Department of Health. 

The same law enumerates their rights to include being entitled to hazard and subsistence allowance, training programs, civil service eligibility, free legal services, and access to loan services. 

However, the law has not provided a fixed rate for their allowances, and local government units vary in the rates and benefits they provide. As a result, many become underpaid and receive far less than what their other counterparts get.

Senate Bill 261 has been filed to enhance the benefits and incentives of barangay health workers in recognition of their important role and work, especially during disease outbreaks and calamities. 

Senator Nancy Binay filed a similar version of this bill in the 17th Congress. 

Pangilinan said ensuring remuneration of barangay health workers is part of the vision to provide universal health-care access to all Filipinos. 

He said it was also consistent with the government’s duty to protect and promote the health of its citizens.

READ: What to do when a dog bites you or another person

Topics: Department of Health , General Appropriations Act , Michael Defensor , World Rabies Day
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