MANILA – There has been a call for an update on the rules and procedures of the Inter-Agency Medical Repatriation Assistance Program (IMRAP). Incorporated under Joint Memorandum Circular (JHC) No, 2017-0001, IMRAP covers the medical repatriation of various Filipino nationals, both documented and undocumented migrant workers, and their dependents overseas.
Many Filipinos abroad who have been in touch with medical repatriation know about IMRAP. It is a critical program that offers comprehensive assistance to migrant workers who need to be repatriated due to health-related reasons. However, despite the success of IMRAP during this past year’s COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a call for careful reassessment and revision of the program’s guidelines before its implementation in 2021.
Role of Participating Agencies in IMRAP
The program necessitates the help of participating agencies through each stage from pre-arrival to post-arrival. This assistance includes welfare aid and reintegration help. OFW Party-list Representative Marissa “Del Mar” Magsino, who led the dialogue, accentuated the need to reevaluate and adjust IMRAP. This consideration takes into account the formation of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) in 2021 and the learnings from previous global public health emergencies.
Revisiting IMRAP’s Guidelines
Magsino noted the rapidly changing work circumstances abroad with health consequences, which necessitates re-examining the program’s guidelines. This would allow the provisions to correspond better to the current realities and challenges of medical repatriation for Overseas Filipinos (OFs) and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). She stressed the need to simplify existing procedures and fortify inter-agency coordination among involved government entities.
Comprehensive Assistance Offered by IMRAP
The program provides in-flight medical assistance and escort services, initial medical assessment/evaluation upon arrival in the country, ambulance conduction, referral to and/or confinement in Department of Health (DOH) or local government unit or state universities or colleges-managed hospitals.
It also covers financial aid for hospital and other medical expenses, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation assistance/benefits, and welfare programs and psychosocial counseling.
Gaps in IMRAP’s Execution
Despite IMRAP’s significant benefits during the pandemic, Magsino acknowledged that there were lessons learned and gaps spotted in the mechanism that need to be addressed.
These gaps include communication issues or lack of coordination among agencies and the absence of additional support to the OF/OFW post-return, such as welfare assistance or reintegration assistance.
The Call to Expand IMRAP’s Scope
The possibility of broadening the program’s scope to include repatriations of distressed OFs and OFWs, not just limited to medical repatriations, was also discussed.
Magsino suggested that this would allow the mechanism to assist OFWs who are victims of abuse and human trafficking.
Agreement among Participating Agencies
All agencies involved in JMC No. 2017-0001, including DOH, DMW, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Social Work and Development, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Philippine Charity Sweepstake Office, and Manila International Airport Authority, attended the dialogue.
They collectively agreed that IMRAP guidelines need to be revised, especially considering the changes in their responsibilities following the creation of DMW. They also agreed in principle to expand the program to include the repatriation of distressed OFWs, particularly those abused or trafficked, subject to their existing rules and issuances on non-medical repatriation.
Concluding Remarks from Magsino
Recognizing the urgency of refining the program, the member-agencies committed to providing their position papers within a week. DOH, as the central coordinating body under JMC 2017-0001, will compile all feedback and reconvene the technical working group to finalize the revisions within the month.
“We are grateful for the participation and recognition of the urgency to revise the guidelines by all agencies involved. This is particularly important as we handle a series of repatriations in conflict areas such as Israel, Lebanon, and recently Sudan. These repatriations may not necessarily be medical but require State intervention, especially in providing psycho-social counseling and welfare assistance”, said Magsino.