By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA— Outgoing president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is leaving behind a dismal state of public health system, said health workers and professionals belonging to the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) last Friday June 25, when they brought to the incoming president Benigno Noynoy Aquino’s residence their 9-point agenda for addressing the country’s health problem.
The public health system is in such dire straits, said Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary-general of HEAD, that if the incoming president Noynoy Aquino listens to even just one of the 9-point agenda they submitted, it would surely result in a big and important boost.
“We hope the incoming president Aquino would listen to the health sector themselves who daily experience this dismal health situation,” Dr. Rivera said. She explained that the health report they brought to Aquino is borne out of a long research and direct experience. They have been presenting the health sector’s problems and fighting for health issues for so long, they are now asking Aquino, who promised change, to treat it like the emergency it is and act on it on his very first 100 days in office.
Public Health System Urgently Needs Resuscitation
Contrary to outgoing Arroyo’s projection of improved health outcomes, HEAD said Filipinos continue to suffer inadequate and inaccessible health services, which grew “worse than ever” under Arroyo. Even Arroyo’s “much-hyped Universal Cheaper Medicine Law” has failed to lower prices of medicines to levels that 70 percent of Filipinos can afford, said Dr. Rivera.
Given the peoples’ worsening jobs situation and income gap under Arroyo, malnutrition, diseases and accidents caused by poverty plague many poor communities. Preventable deaths of pregnant women remain high at 170 per 100,000 live births; there are more stunted and underweight kids; infectious and preventable diseases continue to top causes of death— these are only a few of the indicators of how dismal the health situation in the country is, according to HEAD.
The existence of a National Health Insurance Program (Philhealth) has hardly helped, too, added Dr Rivera, because “gaps in coverage” remain. Although the incoming Aquino administration said it aims to increase its coverage by 100 percent, in reality, according to HEAD, the Philhealth card is not being accepted in most private hospitals and is also useless in poorly-provisioned public hospitals with no medicines.
Privatization whether in full or in part of public hospitals has resulted in more expensive health services, forcing many Filipinos who have no or little income to begin with to delay consulting with health personnel until their health problems grew worse, said the report of HEAD. Even public hospitals could drain poor patients of their hard-earned money, the group said, as these hospitals have been forced by the government’s inadequate budget to charge for every supply, laboratory and diagnostic procedures that used to be free.
The group reiterates that doctors, nurses and other health care providers are “witnesses to the hardships of Filipino patients in hospitals and communities.
The past and the outgoing Arroyo government’s labor export program, coupled with the continuous underpayment of health workers, have driven many health professionals and workers to go abroad. Nearly 4,000 Filipinos, health care providers among them, leave for work abroad every day, based on data of Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
The national budget has never addressed these chronic health problems in Gloria Arroyo’s time, said Dr. Rivera. This year, HEAD noted that “a minuscule P33.7 billion ($730,085,140 at the current exchange rate of $1=P46.159) budget for the Department of Health and attached agencies” translates to only P0.98 ($0.02) a day. The budget is also a mere 2.2 percent of the total national budget.
To give first aid to the country’s health system, the agenda or prescriptions outlined by HEAD to incoming president Aquino included the increase of the health budget to at least P90B ($194,978,227), the guarantee of free health services and medicine for the poor in all levels, and the release of the 43 illegally arrested health workers or the ‘Morong 43.’ The latter’s imprisonment exerts influence on the performance and willingness of other community health workers as well as health professionals to go to far-flung areas.
HEAD also raised the need to give due importance and recognition of health workers, starting with the “full implementation of their salaries and benefits as already prescribed by law, and to send adequate number of health professionals to far-flung areas nationwide. The groups also asked Aquino to put a stop on the privatization of government hospitals. (Bulatlat.com)