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Advancing PHL healthcare and the medical profession for ASEAN
Ray P. Aswat

FREE RECONSTRUCTION SURGERY -- Foreign surgeons from Interplast Australia and New Zealand which enjoy advanced medical technologies and skills conduct free reconstruction surgery to patients with harelip, cleft palate, burns, and other conditions free of charge.  -- Harley Palangchao


The Association of SouthEast Asian Nations has 10 members namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Among its aims and purposes is the provision of assistance to each nation in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical, and administrative spheres.

Integration of the ASEAN countries into a single market enables free flow of goods, services, and investments, as well as free flow of capital and skills.

From the perspective of a medical practitioner, the ASEAN integration has its positive and negative implications on the health sector.

Gone are the days where delegates from the Southeast Asian region would come to our country, particularly to hospitals like the Philippine Heart Center (formerly Philippine Heart Center “for Asia”), to observe and learn from state-of-the-art facilities and knowhow.

Now, we are the one sending delegates to learn from other ASEAN countries. Then a mentor, now a pupil.

It only shows that we are so behind our fast-improving neighbors in terms of medical advancement.

We have a lot to learn from the ASEAN members in terms of prioritizing health care.

In 2012, World Health Organization data shows that healthcare spending as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) among Southeast Asian countries was highest in Vietnam (6.6 percent) compared to Cambodia (5.4 percent), Singapore (4.7 percent), and the Philippines (4.6 percent). However, Southeast Asia as a region had the lowest average at 3.9 percent compared to the rest of the world, with North America leading at 17.2 percent.

Increasing our national budget for health, not only the budget for the military, will definitely improve medical services catering to greater number of Filipinos especially in a geography comprising of thousands of scattered islands where health care provision can prove to be very challenging.

On a positive note, ASEAN integration would allow much needed opportunities for the Philippines in terms of health services, education, training, research, and employment.

There are programs in place where ASEAN nationals are able to train in another member nation and vice versa. This allows us to learn hands on with best practices in the region, not just remain as observers, and hopefully apply the learning in our country.

Just recently, I witnessed a conference with delegates coming from SouthEast Asia. Speakers discussed about the care and management of kidney patients undergoing dialysis. Again, I realized that we are left behind in technology and research. No Filipino practitioner was invited to share the country’s technological advancement or medical research for a better treatment of kidney patients.

And while listening to every foreign speaker report their local data, it showed our lack of representation in the region despite the increasing number of patients undergoing dialysis.

We have a lot of talented doctors and medical professionals but we lack opportunities to shine in our locality and abroad.

The ASEAN integration provides greater opportunity for local researches and international trials where our population is included so that conclusions derived from these studies would be more applicable for the Filipino population and not simply depend on data from which our population is not represented and yet use them as our basis for treatment because they are the only evidence available. The integration also encourages foreign investment in hospitals, medical supplies, equipment, and services potentially improving the quality of health services. It likewise addresses concerns about advancement in medical knowledge, specialized equipment, and valuable skills.

On the other hand, foreign investments raise some concerns, as more doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel would tend to work in foreign hospitals offering better salaries. This can heighten the migration of medical professionals to countries in the ASEAN that provide better pay and worsen the shortages of medical personnel.

Creation of jobs is imperative in our country, but providing wages commensurate to their work is as equally important.

Nevertheless, the Philippine healthcare industry is surely growing with the government outsourcing resources channeled to the improvement of public healthcare. The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) has been expanding its coverage on various medical cases demanding for quality, affordable, and accessible healthcare.

I only wish the government would encourage and soon fund deserving researches as well as Japan do. Singapore and Taiwan provide free in and out of hospital services for dialysis patients, even with those needing surgical or minimally invasive interventions. Hopefully the government can further augment its assistance like these countries.

Treating kidney failure remains expensive reason that a local media chapter, the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club led by its former president, veteran newsman Ramon Dacawi and other partners from the government and private sectors, initiated a legislative-backed campaign to lobby for a state-subsidized free dialysis.

So far, the campaign has collected over 10,000 signatures and still counting while legislative councils in Baguio and Benguet passed resolutions of support to the campaign.

In our attempt to be at par with first-world nations, we should never forget the basics of healthcare, which is “disease prevention,” more than remedy. We make do with what we have for now but while we are improving our facilities, updating technology, and discovering new knowledge requiring billions of funds, attention must equally be on the practical and way more affordable strategies like patient education and motivation, emphasizing on healthy lifestyle and how these significantly reduce disease and its progression.

For example, I consider it a lame excuse that an individual would accept cardiovascular disease as his destiny because his parents have it too when in fact the reason why one would have it is mostly due to modifiable risk factors, meaning things we can change and control. These include, smoking cessation, regular aerobic exercises, diabetes and hypertension control, moderate alcoholic beverage drinking, control of obesity, stress reduction, control of cholesterol. Having these risk factors even without a family history of cardiovascular disease would position a person to having stroke or heart attack significantly more than a person without the risk factors despite having a family history of the disease. Disease prevention would always prove to be a cheap insurance compared to what one would spend when hospitalized, apart from the possible permanent complications like paralysis and heart failure.

Science indeed has advanced a lot, but there are a lot more we do not know, and that becomes a limitation. It is not a misdoing for a physician or any medical professional to admit to a patient he does not know everything about a certain condition but should be excellent with the knowledge medical science already possess, including the art of communicating this knowledge to those who need it.

Lastly, even if we are yet on our way to the top with regard to healthcare and technology, what we can always be proud of in our health sector is the factor of “human touch.” Some may say that transference is flawed, but I say it is what makes Filipino medical professionals in particular more loved by their patients.

Proof of which is the thousands of Filipino nurses and caregivers abroad are preferred by many hospitals because of their exceptional attention and care for patients. It is what clears them of their fears and doubts. Patients feel dignified despite their ailments and in certain conditions, would even matter more than treatment.

(The writer specializes in internal medicine, sub-specialty in adult cardiology, interventional cardiology, hemodialysis access management. He is a consultant of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center and a visiting consultant of the Saint Louis University Hospital of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame de Chartres Hospital, Pines City Doctors Hospital, and the Philippine Heart Center.)

UNITY GONG RELAY -- Baguio officials led by Mayor Mauricio Domogan and Rep. Mark Go led the send off of the unity gong relay to the six provinces in the Cordillera over the weekend to drum up the level of awareness among Cordillerans on the long-time quest to establish a regional autonomous region in the highlands. -- Harley Palangchao


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:: Upgrading the Filipino labor force for the int’ market
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:: Meeting ASEAN standards for "quality single destination"
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Department of Tourism – CAR
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Department of Health – CAR
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Philippine Veterans Bank
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AHEAD Tutorial and Review
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Cordillera School of Digital Arts
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Dreamforce Review and Training Center
Fabulo Beauty and Image Salon
Far East Pacific Commercial
Filipino–Japanese Foundation of Northern Luzon, Inc.
FOX Visus Immigration Consultancy
GMS Technology
Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company
Mother Earth Deli Basket
National Telecommunications Commission
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration – CAR
R.A. Gapuz Review Center, Inc.
Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board – CAR
Rianella Printing Press
Social Security System
Solibao – Ganza Restaurant


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