HEALTH FOR ALL FILIPINOS

Getting sick in a foreign land where you are helpless and lost amid strangers can be a harrowing experience. It is just as sad when you are in your homeland and in pain and without someone to call; even worst when you are confronted with the need to see a doctor or go to the hospital to be healed but without money to pay for the cost. When I left my country in 2006, the Department of Health of the Philippines was at its height of functionalizing the devolution of health services to the Local Governments after years of the localization. By then the highlights in terms of health service delivery was that related agencies like the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes, Philhealth and the Quarantine Office were attached to the Department. The Bureau of Food and Drugs as well as Licensing Unit of the Department were into the regulation of expired, fake and counterfeit products in the market. There was also the Generics Act and the Botika sa Barangay Program. By the look of it the conglomeration of the functions of these agencies as well as the concepts of the different programs brought into the picture could have made significant benefits in the provision of health services but if just to share a true to life incident of bliss I will share a personal experience which I wished my fellowmen enjoy in our own country.

New Zealand has what is called an Accident Compensation Corporation which provides a comprehensive, no-fault personal injury cover for all New Zealand residents and visitors to the country. As a foreign worker in New Zealand I paid about 23% to 25% of my income as tax to the government. New Zealand delivers health services through a District Health System just like how the Philippines organized the provision of health services to its citizenry. In every suburb in New Zealand are private clinics where medical practitioners are accessible for consultation when residents get sick. These private clinics could very well equate to what is called as the primary level of care in the Philippines. They function in coordination and within the framework of the District Health Board where they belong. However it is worthwhile to note that these private clinics charge their own rates for every service they give and to be straight about the matter it is not cheap. The doctors in these private clinics are general practitioners and whatever case they encounter that need further assessment are referred to the specialist. The more acute cases that need immediate attention are referred to the hospital – a medical center in the Philippines.

People’s taxes has different avenues for use and much as I am enjoying the beautiful parks and roadside scenery of the area, well maintained highways, a clean and efficient transport system and more I was particularly impressed when I was injured and how ACC responded to my needs. It was a Tuesday when I felt the pain in my back. My first thought was, maybe it was muscle strain and would just go after some rest. However, the pain radiated down one side of my buttock down the leg to my foot that it was so hard for me to stand and walk. I was alone in my flat and there was no one to ask for help. I rang the workplace to inform that I cannot make it to work that night. The following day, I rang the clinic for an appointment with my GP unfortunately, he was fully booked. The following day was my GP’s day off and the soonest that I could see him was Friday. I was asked about the pain and while we both agreed that it was not going to cost my life I was happy to settle at home and wait.

When I saw the GP on Friday, he put me in for ACC consideration. A few days later I received a letter from ACC telling me that my claim has been accepted and laid out the support they can give me when needed. Initial assistance given to me was the subsidy in the medical professional fee and the medication that I was to take. In the Philippines, at least one Health Officer for every part of a population is supposed to be found in every municipality or city. The officer who is a doctor is paid by the government and renders FREE services to his component area of responsibility. Another thing is the free medicine that a client can get from the Municipal or City Health Center whichever is applicable. At a glance the Philippine scenario looks a better deal but sad to say the delivery of health services is very much tainted with politics that the health benefit has turned insignificant and totally inutil. From the doctor, I brought my script to the chemist where the whole course of pills for my treatment was prepared. For the whole course of pain relief that I was expected to take till my injury was expected to heal I got a whole box of 40 pills of pain relief for NZ$3.00, another box of 40 anti-inflammatory capsules for another NZ$3.00 and a tube of pills for antispasm for another NZ$3.00 which totals to NZ$9.00.

What I realized then was if only my countrymen are empowered to take care of their own health needs rather than rely on the government and take accountability for it. In New Zealand I am not paying for Medicare Insurance – it is part of the tax I paid which entitles me for ACC intervention should something happens to me. Looking back at the Philippine regulations on food and drugs before I left and taking into consideration the Generics Law – it was in New Zealand where I saw the real beauty of the law . In New Zealand I was not worrying about Drug Labels – everything was packed for me with a paper to say what the drug was use for, what it does, when to take it, and what to watch for. Ironically we have the Botika sa Barangay program which was to provide the residents access to safe, cheap and effective drugs – where I am I have no need to say I will take just part of the whole course for I dont have enough money to pay for everything … medicine is affordable with ACC subsidy ( take note nothing is free ) yet you do not have to go to the mayor or his staff to get it. Part of my treatment was the regular weekly visit to my doctor and several sessions with the Physical Therapist. Through my doctor’s note the therapist already knew that again I am covered by ACC and was to pay a subsidised rate. To an average wage earner – cost was affordable.

Living all by myself, I got a call from ACC asking me how I was coping with my activities of daily living. They were to send help for me to be able to eat well or someone to assist with food preparation, house cleaning and rubbish disposal. If I expected all those I could have rang earlier and asked for it but while I was past my worst I thankfully declined the offer. It was simply nice to know that though the first three weeks when I was totally helpless and hopeless help could have been available.

On my first session with the therapist I went very sore – the therapist had to call my GP what to do. Calmly the GP said – she will be alright and will see her tomorrow. The following day while waiting at the lounge at the local clinic I went sore again so that my GP had to ring the registrar in the hospital for advice. The registrar considerately instructed my GP to send me to the Orthopaedic Ward for further assessment. While I was agonizing in pain and could not walk, an ambulance came in to pick me up. A paramedic was talking thoughtfully and sensibly with me, was assessing and attending to me all the way to Wellington hospital – I felt cared for and safe. My thoughts came back to the Philippine setting – every municipality or city in the Philippines has at least one or two ambulances even more – but who are the people in there and what was inside those ambulances ? I could only remember seeing arrogant and careless drivers who turn on the siren of the vehicle even if it was only the healthy local treasurer, accountant or budget officer who is using it for their own business. Even when a really sick person is lying on the stretcher, there is no paramedic to ensure or even just hold the patient’s hand for reassurance and keep them alive till proper medical treatment can be given.

What a waste of resources – specialized cars called ambulances misused and abused. Where I am, I saw on TV that the rescue unit is being sponsored by a local bank. The team is composed of trained staff who are there ready, able and capable of responding in times of need. I am dealing with these people even with my work. I call on them when I need to refer my patients to higher levels of care for further management. I ring them for assistance in emergency situations. Being a recepient of its efficient response I would not mind volunteering to work with them nor give a generous support for them to thrive. And I was amazed to realized that I was on a free ambulance ride – probably because of ACC or was it just that I was on a free ambulance service in the community.

For seven weeks I had to stay in bed most of the time otherwise I was only allowed to stand and walk as much as I could tolerate. I cannot bend, twist my body, reach out, carry, push nor pull heavy objects neither was I allowed to sit nor squat – in summary I was out of work. If I was home in my own country, a month out of work would make my family go hungry, it would wrap me in debts what with rentals , power , water, telephone bills to pay as well as food to eat … but then one day ACC rang and interviewed me about the work I was doing. ACC paid for the temporary loss of income which saved me from being broke and frustrated. Every week, my case officer calls to ask if I was sleeping , eating and coping well. Somewhere I was really caught emotional when I was asked if I was getting depressed and ever had a case of depression and would need an anti-depressant. The ACC had a wholistic approach dealing with my case – they made me feel that while I was in bad shape they were there to make every moment of it less frustrating. One thing was the essence I understood from the” no fault” injury cover. The ACC people were simply very supportive – if I was more excited to try going back to work they were there to say – hey hang on – you cant risk yourself and make matters worst – take it easy and be sure that everything is okay. I said to myself … if I was home surely it would not take me a week to go to the hospital for a check up – and yes, if I was home I could have been admitted and got immediate care but I probably cannot get out of the hospital without paying a fortune even that which may leave me a pauper not only to my own relatives but maybe a victim to all the loan sharks in my own country.

After two months, I was still getting in touch with my GP in coordination with the specialist who requested an MRI scan and blood test to rule out other medical conditions that would contribute to the back pain. I am to do rehabilitation jobs on my back which as they say may take a year or two to completely heal – but all through the way of recovery I never felt the government I paid my dues forsake me. New Zealand is only my second home. In here I am alone and breaking my back to give dignity to myself as a Filipino. Once a local guy told tell me , you sound funny -you should talk like a Kiwi – deep in my heart I felt proud to reply – I am a Filipino, I have learned to love New Zealand but I can never be a true blue New Zealander because deep within me is the soul of a Filipino. Yet I am not in my own country and serving my own people. If at the time of my injury I was in the lap of my native land – will the people I entrusted my tax, my effort and my pride cared for me as these strangers did at the time of my tragedy?

New Zealand is not perfect just like any other nation . When the earthquake in Christchurch occured I come to think maybe if I die how nice it would be if I could see my family at my death bed. Wellington is very windy and wet , it drives me crazy… I am falling in love with a Maori guy who proves to be a challenge to all that I have learned and grew up as a Filipino – so that if just to make things easy I would glady spend the rest of my days with my countrymen but how I wished the Philippines I am so loyal and loved with all my heart wakes up to a new light.

Philippines is a beautiful country – Philippines is so blessed – Philippines is for the Filipinos – how I wished Philippines can be a responsible and caring home where Filipinos can comfortably and happily enjoy a blissful life of virtue, pride, and dignity… if there be one leader who has the conscience to assert a political will to honour and respect the people who entrusted to him their QUALITY OF LIFE and SURVIVAL yet do not know where to start maybe I should suggest please start with health – Health is Wealth

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  • nina

    i think majority here didnt understand the thread..what it simply is saying NZ healthcare is really good compared to our corrupt health system in the philippines.