“Like Kristel Tejada, the UP freshman who took her own life because of her family’s inability to pay her tuition, the Filipino people, especially those who cannot afford expensive health services, are left with no other choice but to wait for their death. This system is the one that pushes us to desperation.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Weng Yandog, 47, along with her daughter and granddaughter walked from Sto. Domingo Church to the Philippine Orthopedic Center, not minding the heat of the sun, to protest the looming privatization of government hospitals. She said the privatization of government hospitals is threatening the lives of the Filipino people and therefore she too should do her part in opposing it.
A week before the Lenten season, the groups held a protest action dubbed as “Privatization of public hospitals: Calvary of the people and health workers” on Wednesday, March 20. The groups denounced the privatization of the POC and other government hospitals.
The health groups, urban poor communities and patients staged a Kalbaryo ng Mamayan where a man carried a big cross as symbol of expensive health services in the country. Around him were cutouts of President Benigno Aquino III, Department of Health Secretary Enrique Ona and Uncle Sam as the culprits behind Public Private Partnerships. The Kalbaryo started from Sto. Domingo Church, passed through Angelicum School, Biak na Bato st, Banawe st. and ended at the POC.
“We are the ones who will be greatly affected when government hospitals are privatized,” said Yandog. She is a housewife from Fairview also in Quezon City.
The privatization of the POC is the first project of the Aquino administration under the Public Private Partnership program. Pre-bidding was already held last Jan. 25 and had already nine bidders. Among the companies who submitted bids are: Siemens, Inc., GE Health Care, Sta. Clara International Corp., Mount Grace Hospital Ventures, and Philips Electric. The deadline for submission of bidding is on March 26. The bidders will be evaluated on April; the awarding of the winning bidder will be on May and June will be the signing of the Build-Operate Transfer Agreement between the government and the winning bidder.
After the signing of the agreement, the construction of the new POC is projected to begin on April 2014 up to April 2016. The new POC will operate from 2016 to 2038 under the concession of Metro Pacific Investments, Megawide Engineering Excellence and Strategic Alliance Holding, Ince. Data Trail Corp.
The new 700-bed capacity, super-specialty tertiary orthopedic hospital will be constructed at the National Kidney Transplant Institute complex along East Avenue in Quezon City. In a statement published at the Official Gazzete website, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released a P978.4 million ($24 million) fund to the National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI) for the acquisition of property under the National Housing Association (NHA). This is in line with plans to jumpstart the Modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (MPOC).
According to the DBM statement, the fund release will serve as initial payment for 24,460.40 square meters of the total NHA property occupied by NKTI in Quezon City, with 8,126 square meter allotted for the POC. “The modernization of the POC—which will be implemented via a public-private partnership—will help bring more specialized and responsive health care services to the Filipino public. The acquisition of the unutilized portion of NKTI’s property is the first crucial step in this initiative, and is part and parcel of the Administration’s goal to boost its public health campaign,” said DBM secretary Florencio Abad.
But for health groups, the “modernization” of the only hospital that specializes on bone diseases will only result in costly health services. Sean Velchez, president of the POC employees union said that with the planned “modernization” of the POC, services will no longer be free of charge. He reiterated that patients of the POC are mostly coming from poor families. He added that patients under class D or indigent patients still enjoy free health services. But with the looming privatization, these free health services will no longer be available.
The modernization of POC is also in line with the medical tourism program of the government, where government-owned and controlled corporation hospitals such as the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, NKTI, and Philippine Children’s Medical Center as well as the East Avenue Medical Center will be merged to put up the Philippine Center of Specialized Health Care.
According to the Network Opposed to Privatization of Public Hospitals and Health Services (NOP), this is part of the medical tourism program which promises lucrative return on investment rates for investors.
“The relatively cheaper rates for various procedures in the Philippines will surely attract foreign patients to the specialized health care center. In US, laparoscopic gastric bypass costs from $35, 000 to $52,000 while in the Philippines it is from $2,000 – $3,500. Kidney transplant ranges from $200,000 – 250,000 in US. In the Philippines it is from $23,000 to $250,000. The big discrepancies of rates in US compared with those at these centers will assure highly profitable business ventures and will attract local and foreign capitalists. Also, the center will be an open market for the western-made equipment as part of import liberalization,” the NOP said in its website http://notoprivatization.blogspot.com/.
While the DOH claims that the objective of putting up the Philippine Center of Specialized Health Care is to achieve world class health care, the NOP countered that the services will be for the well-off that can afford and will definitely deprive the poor who cannot.
“We are the only public hospital that can give free laboratory tests and antibiotics to indigent patients. If the government wants responsive health care for the people, why sell POC?” Velchez said.
According to Velchez, the POC serves 450 to 500 patients a day in the out-patient department alone. The casting is usually free and prostheses are much cheaper. “Why does the Aquino government open public hospitals for private foreign and local investors at the expense of the people’s welfare? Why does it allow the people’s right to health to become a commodity for profits? Where will the poor patients go once the POC is privatized?” Velchez said.
Dr. Darby Santiago, chairperson of Health Alliance for Democracy and convener of the Network Opposed to Privatization (NOP) also said, “Foreign investors and business groups like Siemens, General Electric and Manny Pangilinan’s Mega Pacific are vying for the acquisition of these public institutions to rake super profits. Sadly, the privatization of public hospitals will bleed the Filipino people to dry, especially the poor as they will spend more for health services that should have been provided for free by the government.”
Other government hospitals up for privatization
The Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital is also up for “modernization.” Also slated for modernization are the San Lazaro Hospital and Jose Reyes Memorial Center. According to a report, Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa saidthe Fabella Hospital will be moved to headquarters of the DOH in Tayuman. “We will effectively create another series of hospitals; San Lazaro, Jose Reyes and Fabella – another 400-bed mother and child hospital complex,” Herbosa was quoted saying in the same report.
According to the NOP, Fabella Hospital will be converted into a women’s wellness center. “The conversion will displace the patients who are mostly from poor families of Metro Manila to give way to a center for wellness and beauty enhancement of women who can afford to pay,” NOP’s website read.
Fabella Hospital is a maternal and newborn tertiary hospital serving 80 to 100 deliveries a day.
The Welfareville property in Mandaluyong City where the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) stands is also up for sale. The government is finding a place to relocate the NCMH. According to Jossel Ebesate, president of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), the bidding will start as soon as NCMH has been relocated.
“Other government hospitals are also up for grabs to the highest bidders through Aquino’s PPP program, in the guise of modernization. These include the San Lazaro Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and 25 regional hospitals across the country,” said Dr. Eleanor Jara, convenor of the NOP.
But even before the privatization of these government hospitals, many government hospitals have already increased their user fees and services. This is to augment the insufficient budget allocated to them.
At the RITM, the P20 ($.5) orange card for new patients is now worth P125 ($3.12). A patient that will go for a follow up check up also has to pay P50 ($1.25) per consultation. When injected for vaccine, patient also has to pay P50 for the needle.
Medical supplies such as cotton balls, adhesive tapes and intravenous lines are no longer free.
With the privatization of government hospitals, Velchez said, poor Filipinos are left with no other choice but to die from their illnesses. “Like Kristel Tejada, the UP freshman who took her own life because of her family’s inability to pay her tuition, the Filipino people, especially those who cannot afford expensive health services, are left with no other choice but to wait for their death. This system is the one that pushes us to desperation,” Velchez said.