“Medical services here at the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital are really affordable. If this will be privatized then where else will the poor go?”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – As early as 5:30 am, Marilyn Buenaobra, 46 and her son Jasper, 12, were already lining up at the out-patient department of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) for therapy. There is something wrong with Jasper’s hip bone, he couldn’t bow or bend. Marilyn said the doctor’s initial diagnosis was scoliosis.
Marilyn and Jasper had to leave early so they could be included in the 100 patients who could undergo the physical therapy session at the POC that day. When Bulatlat.com found her at the POC, they were number 95. “We left the house a little bit late, that’s why,” she said.
Since November last year, Marilyn has been to and from different hospitals for Jasper’s hip bone problem until someone told her to bring her son to the POC. It is only at the orthopedic hospital where they found out that her son has scoliosis. “The doctor here in POC told us to have Jasper undergo an MRI, it was there that that they found out that he has scoliosis,” Marilyn told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
Just this month, Jasper has begun his physical therapy, which costs P300 ($7.27). In a private hospital like St. Luke’s Medical Hospital, basic physical therapy costs P735 ($17.82). Jasper has to undergo six therapy sessions for his hip bone problem.
“Medical services here at the POC are really affordable. If this will be privatized then where else will the poor go?” a teary-eyed Marilyn said. Her husband is selling balot (fertilized duck eggs) and earns a measly P200 a day ($4.85). She, on the other hand, sells vegetables at Baclaran Church every Wednesday and earns P800 to P1,000 ($19.40 to $24.25). They have three children and Jasper is the youngest.
Marilyn and many other mothers like her will be affected by the looming privatization of the POC.
April 26, Friday, was the deadline for the submission of bidders for the “modernization” of the POC. This was met by a protest action of different cause-oriented groups strongly opposing the “modernization” project of the POC. Under the scorching heat of the sun, health workers, patients, mothers from urban poor communities, workers and professional health workers marched to POC in Banawe in Quezon City.
At least nine big companies including Manny V. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Investment has submitted bids to the pilot Public-Private Partnership project under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. The awarding of the winning bidder will be on May and on June will be the signing of the Build-Operate Transfer Agreement between the government and the winning bidder. The winning bidder will have a contract of 25 years to manage the new 700-bed capacity POC to be built at National Kidney Transplant Institute complex along E. Rodriguez also in Quezon City.
Miriam Rivera, 29, from San Miguel, Bulacan also has a brother who has a fractured leg. She said it was a big help that consultations at the POC are free. “We have been here twice and we still did not spend a big amount of money for my brother’s treatment,” Rivera told Bulatlat.com. She too worries that if the POC will be privatized, services will no longer be free.
According to Marilyn, they have spent thousands of pesos already for the x-ray on Jasper’s hip bone alone. It was before someone referred her to bring Jasper to the POC. She said the P800 ($19.50) cost of x-ray at the POC would be lessened to P200 ($4.85) when she asks assistance from the social services department.
Juan Dela Cruz (not his real name), 62, a government employee also went to POC for treatment of his fractured arm. The consultation was free of charge. However, he paid for the P750 ($18.19) x-ray because he lost his senior citizen’s ID. “If I have my senior citizen’s ID, I will not pay a single centavo for the x-ray because here at POC, x-ray for senior citizens’ is free of charge,” he said.
He criticized the government for pushing for the POC’s privatization. “The government can modernize this hospital without the help of private investors. What happened to the tax we’re paying?” he said, adding that privatization is a scheme dictated by the International Monetary Fund-World Bank (IMF-WB).
Gloria Arellano, secretary general of urban poor group Kadamay lambasted Aquino’s pilot PPP project. “The urban poor have been suffering from hunger, joblessness. Our houses are being demolished and we are being deprived of basic social services, such as housing and now the government would deprive us even more of health services” she said in a protest action at the POC.
She said the poor have been seeking treatment from traditional healers such as hilots and arbularyos (herbalist) because they could not afford medical services even in government hospitals. Marilyn brought Jasper to a hilot because they have no money. But when Jasper has been consistently complaining about his hip, she decided to bring her to the hospital. There was no other choice, she said, but to loan for Jasper’s treatment.
“The orthopedic hospital is a poor man’s refuge where the poorest of the poor, the lame and the crippled go to be treated,” said Velchez, president of the POC employees union. He added that almost 90 percent of their patients come from the lowest strata of society: from farmers who fell from their carabaos to workers falling from high rise buildings. Many children and elderly who suffer from ordinary fractures and hundreds of people afflicted with bone cancer, spinal injuries and bone tuberculosis go to the Orthopedic hospital for treatment.
“From the report of Commission on Audit (CoA), the Orthopedic hospital serves about 7,000 admissions, 50,000 treated at the emergency room and 150,000 out-patient department consultations every year. Ninety percent of this number will be victims of privatization who will be deprived of treatment due to poverty,” said Velchez.
Meanwhile, employees and health workers of POC held a protest action also last Friday. Those who were off-duty walked out from the hospital to protest POC’s “modernization” and joined other groups who are also protesting against privatization.
The nurses from the Philippine Nurses’ Association also joined the protest action. “We are here to support the health workers plight when the POC is privatized. We support the universal health program of the government, however, they should always think about the consequences if the POC will be privatized,” Leonardo Nuestro, executive director of PNA said. He added that many nurses are abused and have no security of tenure.
Eleanor Nolasco, vice president of Nars ng Bayan assailed the government’s RN Heals program where nurses are working on a volunteer basis with salary that is way below entry level. She said that with the privatization of POC and eventually of the 26 government hospitals slated to be privatized, nurses will be further exploited.
“When a private entity runs a government hospital like POC, its only goal is to rake in profits. Therefore, the existing contractualization among nurses will worsen if government hospitals will be privatized,” said Nolasco.
Velchez said there still a lot to be done to block the privatization of the POC and other government hospitals. “As the awarding of bidder is approaching we should show the government that we will not let our hospital, that has been servicing the poor for 68 years to be taken from us by investors whose only goal is to squeeze out profits from the poor,” Velchez said.
Geneve Rivera, secretary general of Health Alliance for Democracy said everything – from electricity, water and transportation is being privatized in the country. Privatizing health services is too much.
Patients could only hope that the most important social service of the government would not be taken away from them.