Wednesday, October 03, 2012

[Vital Signs Column] Universal Health Care: Pharmacy Pawnshops

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Vital Signs Column
By: Alvin Cloyd Dakis, RN
October 01-15 Issue

Well hello October! The season is nearing for endless shopping for gifts, decorations and lots of food! I can feel the climate getting colder. I am hoping that October will be kinder to you this year.

Recently, I became part of a team that advocates Universal Health Care (UHC) in the Philippines. I got accepted and join the ranks of former Health Secretaries, national scientists and public health leaders. This group known as the Universal Health Care Study Group was formed under the National Institutes of Health of UP Manila and is currently in partnership with the Department of Health for an 8-month national campaign to promote people's access to Universal Health Care program in the country.

This campaign started last August and as part of the team, I am commissioned to mobilize nurses through my organization - AYNLA. We will be conducting series of community assemblies where we consult the people from the community and get their sentiments and suggestions to improve health facilities, services and policies. 

I also thought it would be nice to write my thoughts about each UHC Community Assemblies we organize in different areas and tell you some of the inputs that amazed me. Let me start from the first community assembly we had in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. 

Participants said there are a lot of patients in health centers even to the point of crowding them. Patients are not assisted well and most of their public hospitals have lacking hospital equipment. Hospital beds would occupy more than one patient. Because centers and wards are often crowded, nurses tend to miss attending to all the patients' concerns. But what struck me was when one participant said that a nurse told her to wait because she is still putting on her make-up. Like really now? Should government employees behave like this? Participants said that if you do not have money to pay for your down payment then you also do not get ample and decent treatment (we receive similar inputs in our other assemblies we organized).

But what raised my brows was when a couple of participants said that some pharmacies outside public hospitals would have a different function at times when patients are in dire need of medicines does not have cash to pay. 

They call this "Utang sa Botika".

Participants disclosed that some pharmacies outside public hospitals would become an instant pawnshop for patients who cannot but medicines through cash. Pharmacists and store owners would allow patients to "deposit" their personal belongings including laptops, cellphones and jewelry in exchange of the medicines they would need (this is like a barter trade of the olden times). 

Unlike regular operating pawnshops however, these pharmacies would not have a strict time where they ask their clients to redeem their belongings. It would seem like this is an act of goodwill.

But are these pharmacies allowed to have these kind of transactions in the first place? How come this came unregulated? How would they appraise these jewelry or gadgets? Do they have a measuring device to know how much would one necklace cost and that its price is enough for the patient to buy Penicillin? What if the appraised amount of one TV set would cost greater than that of the prescribed number of medicines, would they give 'change' or would it mean an additional 'purchase' of some over-the-counter drugs?

How would the pharmacists' association respond to this kind of practice (if some pharmacists do engage in this)? Is this kind of transaction benevolent?

It rose a lot of inquiries in my mind and at the same time asked my ethical grounds as a nurse and health professional. From what is happening, I am thinking that this kind of practice can be exploited and can pave way for some pharmacy owners to collect items, gadgets or jewelry beyond the amount of the medicines they dispensed. 

According to the participants this was an ongoing practice and was around for some time now. For a family without money and would badly need medicines for their sick loved ones, this option would seem inevitable. I do hope that our responsible government agencies can look into this and find alternative solutions so we can prevent this from becoming a monster we would be having a hard time to defeat later on.

By the way I am asking everyone especially to those who are active in the cyberspace and to those who owns social networking sites to join me and my colleagues in our call to repeal the e-libel provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act also known as Republic Act 10175 which became in full enforcement last October 03. With this new law, one may be charged of libel against someone if you comment, post a status or tweet and may be charged for 12 years in prison. Even liking a "libelous" post or comment would mean abetting the commission of a cybercrime and will be held liable.

The DOJ and NBI can also scan, penetrate and confiscate online data and even have websites shut when it perceives it to be libelous or committing a cybercrime. 

And the law now declares cybersex as an offense and would mean that couples engaging in such because they are away from each other are prohibited to do so, even if there are mutual consent. I wonder if they would need to monitor all online traffic and check all data in the cyberspace to know if there are those who are doing cybersex and immediately catch them. 

These would also mean that there will be a lot of people who might be committing e-libel and be thrown into prison, that would mean investing more money in the creation and expansion of jails. They would also need to hire more personnel to guard jailhouses and train more to monitor cybercrimes perceived or actual.

Days before October 03, the day which we called Cyber Martial Law, many of us joined a widespread national campaign to repeal and junk the Cybercrime Law especially on its e-Libel Clause which was admittedly included by Senator Tito Sotto who was accused of plagiarizing the work of a blogger for his 'Turno-en-Contra' speech against the RH Bill. 

It was only Senator TG Guigona who voted no for the passage of the law. Now Senators Chiz Escudero and Pia Cayetano wants to amend and have dialogues with the netizens. But why now? When they have signed this into law? How could you overlook this provision? Well they have defended their stance but now, I wish they be with us in our call to repeal that clause (well to many they wanted the law to be refined and amend majority of its parts).

We do hope you join us by first, educating yourself of the contents of the law and by actively sharing your opinion about it in social media. Make this your call, make this your fight. Do not allow a law to limit your posts and comments that would only please them, what about those who are abusing their political authority? Should we keep silent about it? Should we not comment or blog about it? Should we be thrown in jail for scrutinizing the works of our public officials?

We will not be silenced. Join us.

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