The Filipino patient is waiting

Column-Dr Anthony Leachon photoPreventive Health Education

By Anthony C. Leachon, MD

THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY is awaiting with bated breath the decision of President Aquino on Health Sec. Enrique Ona, who is embroiled in the controversy over the PhP 800-million purchase of a pneumonia vaccine plus other issues based on President Aquino’s comments in his media interviews.

I’m sad with the turn of events. I make an effort to really hide the pain in my heart of the current situation of our health agency. Sec. Enrique T. Ona has contributed to the government efforts on the following: RH, sin tax laws, and build up of health facilities. He has several challenges as well – this is usual when you work in the public sector.

Acting DOH Sec. Janette Loreto-Garin is trying her best to work amid resistance of the Filipino public on her reputation as a politician. She was a deputy majority floor leader and a productive legislator in the Lower House, particularly on RH and Cheaper Medicines Laws. Her only fault is being close to PNoy and the LP party.


1. President Aquino has to decide ASAP – it’s an appointment hinged on trust. Public office is a public trust.
2. DOH can’t endure a long vacuum of leadership since it will cause demoralization and further disunity among the DOH employees and the entire citizenry. The Ebola outbreak threat is of enormous proportion. We can’t be relaxed given the 10 million migrant workers in the Philippines and 3,000 OFWs from West Africa.
3. The executive decision is needed since the DOH is the public face of social service and the lead agency responsible for our healthcare system.
4. Philippine College of Physicians is recommending a comprehensive evaluation of the status of the UHC and the plans for sin tax utilization in the last two years of the Aquino administration, so the poor can feel the benefits of the landmark law signed by the President in Dec 2012.

The wealth of a nation is its people. It goes without saying that a healthy population is a prerequisite for a country to progress. Healthy citizens live longer and are more productive.

The number one asset of a nation is its people. Healthy people make wealthy nation. Our greatest concern is the shortage of health professionals in the country side due to maldistribution and lack of opportunities to stay and results in brain drain. Who will take care of 100 million Filipinos with the expansion of PhilHealth, under severe threat of an epidemic of noncommunicable diseases and resurgence of communicable diseases?

The 47.6 percent of deaths among Filipinos are unattended by a medical doctor or allied health provider.

Consider the following facts:

1. Most Filipinos, especially the poor, use public facilities to seek medical care.
2. Of the 66,000 physicians, 500,000 nurses and 74,000 midwives who are actively practicing their profession and registered with the PRC, only 3,000, 5,000, and 17,000, respectively, work in a public facility as of 2013.
3. This translates to only 0.2 physicians, 0.4 nurses and 1.7 midwives per 10,000 population, or a total of 2.3 healthcare workers per 10,000 population. This number is 10 times less than the 24/10,000 recommended by the WHO, as the minimum number needed to address just the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) of maternal and child health alone.
4. The shortage of healthcare workers affects not just the supply of doctors, nurses, and midwives, but also the supply of dentists, pharmacists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, medical technologists, and other allied medical professionals, including our partners in healthcare, the community health workers.

Inadequate and ineffective vaccination, lack of basic medicine, lack of funds for health workers due to alleged corruption result in a weak work force, loss of productivity, and bigger budget for treatment.

We should acknowledge and highlight Dr. Ona’s positive accomplishments at the DOH although health advocates may disagree with some of his policies and priorities. We should also respect Sec. Garin in her challenging job to fill in the role of her predecessor.

I am praying hard that President Aquino will appoint the right man (or woman) to head the health agency for the sake of DOH and the people. He should set aside politics and realize that this is a great opportunity for him to reform the DOH and to make corrections before his term ends.

The country needs urgently a leader in health – agile, compassionate, and people-centered.

The Filipino patient is waiting.

Vital Signs Issue 70 Vol. 3, December 1-31 2014

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