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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

An unhealthy disposition

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HEALTH Secretary Paulyn Ubial says they might send undercover patients to public hospitals so they could see how government doctors, nurses and other staff treat their patients.

A lawmaker asked the secretary during the department’s budget hearing if she had heard about grumpy doctors and described how very sick, very poor patients had to suffer the indignity of being treated rudely or dismissively by public medical staff.

The secretary said she would look into the matter, but it is difficult to believe this is all new to her or to the previous DoH officials who struggle to implement health programs and manage government’s medical facilities amid dwindling budgets. 

Ubial reported to Congress her discovery that in Cuba, 28 percent of the national budget went to universal health care. Back here, health spending corners just six percent of the annual allocations. The ratio of doctors to citizens in Cuba—1 doctor for every 1,075 people—also trumps the Philippines’ 1:33,000.

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The shortages in funds and in professionals are also old fare to Filipinos who, if they can manage it, resort to more expensive private health institutions. Those who have no such option get by with the poor quality of service they can get, perhaps consoling themselves with the thought that at least there is some form of service to begin with. 

From the supply side, it is also plain to see the source of desperation of public health service providers. The situation is not something to smile about. The lack of funds prevents the government from paying its employees competitive wages and hiring enough workers so they don’t tax themselves with extended shifts. Medical staff are also not given ample equipment to their job well. 

Nonetheless, the profession they chose has always had a public service character. While it is easy to react naturally to the difficult conditions these health workers face every day, a constant reminder from the department leadership will likely help bring them back to the fundamental reasons they chose this kind of work and not any other.

Alongside this, of course, the agency must work with whatever little it has, and whatever supplemental help is available, to ensure that decent health services are available to those in most remote locations or in the poorest communities, and that the individuals who give their time and commitment to this cause are rewarded and recognized. 

It’s not quite utopia, but it’s something we can begin with.

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