Filipinos will have access to free medical education and the country’s human resources for public health will be expanded once the Senate ratifies the “Doktor Para sa Bayan Act, which was described as a “landmark legislation” by Senator Joel Villanueva.
Villanueva said the approval of the Bicam report was timely as it showed that public health remained the Senate’s priority amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the pandemic had only exposed the Achilles’ heel of the healthcare system and the shrinking supply of Filipino doctors.
“Imagine, we only have three doctors per 10,000 population, far from the ideal ratio of 10 doctors per 10,000 population,” said Villanueva, the principal author and sponsor of the measure.
The bill sets up a medical scholarship and return service program, which grants scholarships to deserving students aspiring to become physicians.
It seeks to encourage students to take up medicine and help improve the country’s doctor-patient ratio.
The country needs to produce more than 80,000 doctors to meet the WHO-prescribed ratio of 10 doctors per 10,000 population.
Villanueva said the bill would establish the Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program for deserving Filipino students, with priority for qualified applicants from municipalities without government physicians to ensure the assignment of at least one doctor for every municipality in the country.
“This bill provides free tuition and other school fees, including allowances and fees for internship, medical board review and licensure examination and sets conditions on scholarship grants, such as the requirement for scholars to finish the entire Doctor of Medicine Program within the prescribed time frame and to render a return of service equivalent to the number of years he or she has availed of the scholarship.” Villanueva said in his speech.
“It will also consolidate and harmonize all Nationally-Funded Medical Scholarship Programs under the Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program as well as require the Commission on Higher Education to streamline the requirements for the application for authority to offer the Doctor of Medicine Program.”
The implementation of the measure will strengthen the cooperation among state universities and colleges with government hospitals to increase the number of medical schools throughout the country, with one region having at least one state-operated medical school.
Villanueva said a transitory provision was included in the measure, mandating all scholars under the existing medical scholarship programs of the Department of health and CHED will automatically be eligible to avail themselves of the benefits.
In its first year, the bill, when approved, intends to double the number of scholars under the scholarship programs of the DOH and the CHED, which have around 3,000 scholars, Villanueva says.