Wednesday, April 03, 2013

[Vital Signs Column] What Universal Health Care Means to Me?

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Nurse's NotesBy: Alvin Cloyd Dakis, RN
April 16-30, 2013 Issue

Honestly I have heard of Universal Health Care only in 2010, but this has been in the pipeline years ahead. I was wondering what happened in the previous years why this topic has not come to the fore. I think the current administration played a huge role to make Universal Health Care worth discussing when it included it in their agenda and platform of governance.

When I graduated and became a registered nurse, Universal Health Care was never in my mind. I studied nursing with many of my college professors talking about foreign employment, living abroad or earning much higher than being employed locally. Only a few from among us would even think of joining the public health force that time. That time, many of us think that community health is one of the most uninteresting and lowly of all fields of nursing practice.

Recently when I joined the Universal Health Care Study Group of UP National Institutes of Health was when I started to realize how it is important for the country to have Universal Health Care to address many inequalities in the healthcare system. 

Actually, we just finished running a seven-month campaign promoting Universal Health Care in the country. This national campaign known as the "Secretary's Cup" is a series of events promoting the 6 building blocks of Universal Health Care - governance, information systems, financing, services, human resources, and regulations.

How is it really important to me, or for any of us? 

I've seen and heard many stories of people suffering their health because they do not have the means to access health care services. Many women are dying because of childbirth complications which are highly preventable. When I joined the Universal Health Care Study Group, I came closer to the issues.

Why is it important to me? It's because healthcare is a right - of every Filipino, rich or poor, with resources or none, PhilHealth member or not. It is a human right. More people are dying because they do not have access to affordable and quality health care. Health professionals dream of leaving the country instead of serving here because they are overworked but greatly underpaid. In addition to that, many health professionals felt unappreciated as well.

During the Secretary's Cup, we had some community town hall assemblies which were geared towards getting direct information from the communities about their honest opinion with the current health system and their recommendation to make it better. These Town Hall Assemblies were done in the following areas: Quezon City, La Trinidad, Cabanatuan, Malolos and General Santos City. Special Town Hall Assemblies were done in Los Banos and Iloilo City.

In all these Town Hall Assemblies, I have come to realize certain things that makes realize how important it is to have Universal Health Care in the Philippines:

Medicine is Health. Many of the people who attended thinks that access to essential medicines is in fact access to health or "health". When I ask the people what is health for them, most often they would associate it with "getting medicines". Only a very few of them would even think about prevention or promotion of healthy lifestyle. Still the predominant view of being 'healthy' is getting medicines for one's illness. Access to medicines and timely supply & replenishment is also important to many of them.

Money is Health. People believe that if you have money, you will be treated well. But if you don't, then you suffer from poor service and last in the priority list. Many of them felt generally of the same in different levels of health service. According to them, it will also change how health professionals in public hospitals & health centers would treat their patients.

Lack of knowledge in Health Insurance. Many of the attendees in the community town halls would express their lack of sufficient knowledge about their health insurance, specifically PhilHealth. They would not know its coverage or what diseases it will cover. They do not even know about "No Balance Billing" for sponsored members. Some of them have used their PhilHealth services but said that reimbursement takes a very long time.

Dilapidated health facilities. Apart from health services, a pressing issue among the community people are the health facilities. They reported that there are some facilities which has poor lighting, ventilation, or have old edifices. Lack of beds in public hospital tends to have transients of four in one bed. Supplies would also be another concern that comes along unhealthy facilities. All these contribute to an ineffective health care system.

Corruption in the health system. Another main issue the people cited is the grave corruption happening both in the local government and in the health system as well. Many said that there are some funds allocated for health but were corrupted by local officials. They also said that corruption impedes development in the health system, employment of appropriate number of health professionals and improving of facilities.

However the attendees were also a bit hopeful that we can still address these issues and somehow improve our healthcare should leaders both in the national and local positions prioritize it. Asked if the Philippines can attain a Universal Health Care - a country where its people have accessible, affordable, quality and equal health care to all its constituents -  the people said one thing that struck me the most: 

"We can. If we help the government and if we start among ourselves."  

We may not achieve Universal Health Care now but it doesn't mean we are not going there. Seeing how UK did it when they started their NHS program in the 1940's gives me that fervent hope that we won't be that late to achieve our own.
I will be one in my generation ensuring that Universal Health Care be realized in the country. That every Filipino will not be in the mercy of politicians to have quality healthcare but should enjoy his constitutional basic human right from the moment he/she is born.

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