With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) today appealed to Congress to allocate P5-billion out of the P162 Billion fund to be created under the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill to hire and train 50,000 contact tracers to boost the country’s contact tracing capability and prevent the onward transmission of the virus.
In a letter to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año proposed the hiring and training of qualified and competent persons to serve as members of contact tracing teams starting September this year with a corresponding budget requirement of P5-billion.
Año said that while contact tracing efforts are already being conducted by more than 7,000 contact tracing teams with a total of more than 85,000 contact tracers, there is a need to hire at least 50,000 more to meet the WHO recommended ratio of one contact tracer for every 800 people.
“With a projected population of 108 million this year, we need 50,000 more contact tracers to attain the ideal number of 135,000 contact tracers to pursue quick and credible tracing of close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients,” he said.
He also said that the current number of contact tracers cannot meet the recommendations of Contact Tracing Czar Mayor Benjie Magalong of a 1:37 patient to close contacts ratio in order to cut the transmission of the disease. “We need to significantly increase the number of contact tracers to meet the 1:37 ratio target recommended by Mayor Magalong which has been effective in Baguio and in Cebu City,” he said.
According to the DILG Chief, time is of the essence and government has to act with dispatch given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country. “We are racing against time. Every single second counts and the longer we fail to expand our contact tracing capacity, the higher the probability that the virus spreads to more communities. We, therefore, need more contact tracers urgently to break the chain of transmission of this virus,” he said.
To ensure funds for the hiring of contact tracers, DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said the Department proposes the inclusion of a provision under Section 4 of Senate Bill 1564 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill on the allocation of “P5-billion to finance the hiring of 50,000 contact tracers to be implemented by the DILG which shall include, but not limited to, recruitment, training, compensation and operational expenses.”
Malaya said the DILG is also proposing for the amendment of Section 3 (b) of the bill to ensure that contact tracing efforts in the community will be “subject to the rules and regulations to be issued by the DILG which shall include recruitment, training, compensation, among others, of contact tracers.”
Under the DILG’s proposal, the minimum qualification standards for a contact tracer are: graduate of a Bachelor’s degree on Allied Medical Courses or Criminology; one-year relevant experience; and four hours of relevant training. Second priority will be given to those who have completed at least two years of college education in medical or criminology- related courses provided they have the relevant training and experience.
“We will also prioritize the hiring of government contract of service personnel whose contracts have not been renewed due to COVID-19 budget realignments, returning Overseas Filipino Workers whose employments have been disrupted, and local company workers whose services have been recently terminated,” said Malaya.
He said that the hiring of contact tracers will be facilitated by the DILG regional offices with the help of the DILG provincial, city and municipal offices who will screen the applicants.
Of the 50,000 contact tracers to be hired, 20,000 will be deployed in Luzon, 15,000 to the Visayas, and another 15,000 in Mindanao based on the region’s population and deducting the current number of contact tracers already working in the areas. “If need be, more contract tracers will be assigned to Metro Manila and other hot spots,” said Malaya.
Pursuant to Resolution 25 of the Interagency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), the DILG is the lead agency in the government’s contact tracing efforts.