As the importance of Universal Healthcare (UHC) was emphasized by the pandemic, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Health (DOH) are working to further strengthen the Barangay Health Response Teams (BHERTs) and announced the ways forward in reinforcing them during Monday’s regular DOH media forum, Oct. 5, 2020.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire emphasized the role of BHERTs, reiterating the statement of Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III that they are the country’s first line of defense in the communities. “Ang mga BHERT friends po natin ang pangunahing health defense sa ating community ngayong pandemic,” said Usec. Singh-Vergeire.
For his part, DILG Undersecretary and Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya explained that each local government unit’s BHERTs carry a big responsibility and require adequate support in fulfilling their roles.
“Napakalaki pong tungkulin ang ginagawa ng barangay health emergency response teams and we would like these teams to be sustained in the long run to ensure that they are functioning and are able to give the necessary service to the public especially at this time of pandemic,” said Malaya.
In further strengthening the various BHERTs and strengthening the country’s universal healthcare at the grassroots level, the DOH and DILG push for equipping BHERTs with proper protective gear and other requirements from hygiene to infection control.
The Alliance for Improving Health Outcomes and the Asia Foundation have provided BHERTs with an easy-to-carry information packet called COVID-19 Pocket Guide for BHERTs. The pocket guide contains the most recent data about COVID-19 and the roles and responsibilities of BHERTs.
According to Malaya, the pocket guide will also serve as a key resource for BHERTS in managing COVID-19 in the community, especially in facilitating quarantine and isolation. Its guidance in properly aiding communities during a health crisis through sample forms and algorithms will enable BHERTs in conducting their tasks more efficiently.
BHERTs are also supplementary to the 50,000 target contact tracers of the DILG. As of October 5, there are now 10,136 hired contact tracers who were chosen out of the 55,000 applicants whose recruitment process is still being expedited, according to Malaya.
“Meron po tayong Bayanihan 2 [Bayanihan to Recover As One] na nagbibigay sa DILG ng authority to hire at least 50,000 contact tracers nationwide. Ang ginagawa po ng DILG ay binibigyan priority ang ating BHERTS sa hiring kung sila ay kwalipikado,” said Usec. Malaya.
Considering the challenges that BHERTs face, Usec. Malaya also stressed that it is critical to ensure they are activated, functioning, and are able to deliver the necessary service required of them. The DOH and DILG will tap the National Barangay Operations Office to conduct a retooling of BHERTs in different regions of the country.
As part of the country’s granular pandemic response, the BHERTs conduct home visits for active case finding. They also conduct contact tracing and monitoring of those in home-quarantine. In case there are signs or symptoms of COVID-19, they will refer the patient to the designated quarantine facility or health facilities, also known as temporary treatment and monitoring facility, for proper treatment.
As of August 2020, there are 39,347 BHERTS all over the country. These include all barangays in Region I (3,267), Region II (2,311), Region V (3,471), Region IX (1,904), Region XI (1,162), Region XII (1,195), Cordillera Administrative Region (1,176), and National Capital Region (1,709), all with 100% activated BHERTs.
Meanwhile, Region III has 3,084 barangays with 99.42% activated BHERTs; Region X’s 2,014 barangays with 99.60%; Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao’s (BARMM) 2,581 barangays with 99%; Region VIII’s 4,121 barangays with 93.87%; Region XIII’s 1,186 barangays with 90.47%; and MIMAROPA’s 770 barangays with 53% activation, as of August 2020.
According to Usec. Singh-Vergeire, BHERTs are crucial in enhancing the UHC law which specifies that each home in the country must have one barangay health emergency response team assisting them. The law also ensures that each Filipino has access to PhilHealth-covered COVID-19 services, primary care services, immunization, and consultations.
The health undersecretary also explained that BHERTs are tasked to provide immediate and proper emergency assistance. They work closely with the national government in implementing necessary health programs, standards, protocols, and updates in each household they are protecting.
“Malaki po ang impact ng efforts ng DILG sa ating laban kontra COVID-19 lalong lalo na po alam po natin ang pinaka-effective na measure sa COVID-19 is for us to bring down the response dito po sa pinaka-mababang antas o level ng ating gobyerno, and that is our barangays,” stressed Usec. Singh-Vergeire.