Various health groups, health-science students and advocates held the People’s Caravan for Health on July 19, Wednesday, parading seven floats that depicted issues which remain to be addressed by the Duterte administration, such as poverty, lack of budget for health services, high tuition for medicine students and privatization of government hospitals.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has failed the health sector and the public who hoped to finally have better access to health service under his administration.
Various health groups, health-science students and advocates held the People’s Caravan for Health on July 19, Wednesday, parading seven floats from Quezon City to Manila. The floats depicted issues which remain to be addressed by the Duterte administration, such as poverty, lack of budget for health services, high tuition for medicine students and privatization of government hospitals.
The Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) said the Duterte administration’s Philippine Health Agenda carries the same neoliberal policies which have increasingly privatized health services, and made these inaccessible to the poor. The group said this is only a continuation of the same policy implemented by its predecessor, the Aquino administration.
“The caravan aims to bring attention to the failure of the Duterte administration to take steps toward genuinely solving the root cause of an ill health system, especially for the Filipino masses,” said Dr. Eleanor A. Jara, CPRH co-convener.
‘Duterte’s health agenda same as Aquino’s’
There are 2,000 mothers dying every year due to pregnancy-related complications; three out of 10 Filipino children are stunted. These are figures about dire health conditions that the Duterte administration recognizes in its Philippine Health Agenda 2016-2022, but, Jara said, its solutions do not differ from the past administration.
Under the Philippine Health Agenda, government aims to finance health services predominantly through the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth). In reality, Jara said, patients still pay for other hospital needs since Philhealth does not cover all medical expenses. At least six out of 10 indigent members of Philhealth also shell out money to settle their hospital bills, she added.
Jara said only 35 percent of public hospitals and facilities are Philhealth-accredited, while, 65 percent of private hospitals are Philhealth-accredited.
“Philhealth is used as a profit-making avenue for private institutions that pushes patients to shell out-of-pocket expenses,” she said.
CPRH said the agency gets billions in subsidy, but poor patients still shoulder 53 percent of medical expenses. Philhealth received a budget of P37.5 billion ($73 million) in 2015, P43 billion ($846 million) in 2016 and P53 billion ($1.042 billion) for 2017.
Aside from Philhealth, Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial has announced that the “corporatization” of government hospitals will push through. At least 33 of the 72 public hospitals will be corporatized to gain financial autonomy. Government hospitals such as the Quirino Memorial Medical Center, Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center, and Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center and Corazon Locsin Montelibano Medical Center also have increased fees.
The planned sale and transfer of the National Center for Mental Health, as well as corporatization of Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Center are also on the way.
Jara said the health agenda of the government “promotes the increasing role of the private sector, privatization/corporatization and insurance like PhilHealth to finance public health facilities with the end goal of less or no subsidy from the government.”
‘Comprehensive health services for all’
At the beginning of Duterte’s term last year, the CPRH submitted their health agenda to the President, with hopes that change is indeed coming for the people.
But with Ubial, who is pro-privatization, as health secretary, comprehensive health services for all is next to impossible, the group said.
“Actually her response to our first three agendas – free, comprehensive health care services for all, stop privatization and review of the devolution – is that they could not act on it because they would continue the existing policy,” Dr. Julie Caguiat, CPRH co-convener said in an interview with Bulatlat.
Caguiat said they aspiring for a health services which are available, accessible and affordable for all Filipinos.
Some government initiatives are good, she said, such as the additional P100 million ($1.9 million) budget for medicines in the Philippine General Hospital. Meanwhile, public hospitals in the provinces also need additional budget.
“Yes, there are many patients in PGH, but there are also patients in poor provinces who are also in need of assistance,” she said.
She added that with devolution of health services, budget for local hospitals is measly especially if this is not the priority of the local government. This also results to low salary of health workers and professionals like doctors who should be receiving at least P21,000 ($413) per month but with less budget, they only receive P18,000 ($354).
What’s worse, she said, is that medical workers who serve the people are being killed.
Under the Duterte administration, three doctors were gunned down in a span of five months. But the government has not done enough to prosecute and jail the perpetrators, said Caguiat.
“They were stuck into just giving posthumous awards. They should have done something when the first doctor was killed,” Caguiat added.
She said there are only 3,000 public doctors in country, thus, the ratio 1:30,000 population.
Continue the fight
Caguiat said they will continue to be critical of policies that will be implemented by the Duterte administration.
“We will continue to fight, unite and multiply our numbers until we achieved victory,” she said.
“The key to free, comprehensive, and progressive or people-centered health care system thus, lie on the people’s concerted efforts to push for meaningful changes toward a just and healthy society,” Jara said.