Monday, May 25, 2009

Health Issues and Situation in the Philippines

Eighty percent of the Philippine population, or about 69 million Filipinos, struggle to survive on P96.00 or less (about US$2). The US$2 benchmark is based on World Bank’s defi nition of poverty threshold. The threshold for the Millennium Development Goal is lower at less than US$1. Of the fi gure, 46 million Filipinos go
hungry everyday.

Based on the projection of the National Wages and Productivity Commission, a family of six living in the National Capital Region needs a living wage of P911.00, but the daily minimum wage is only P382.00. The low wage is a part of the conditions of the International Monetary Fund to ensure that the Philippines would be able to pay its debts.

The gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider, with the net worth of the ten richest Filipinos (US$12.4 billion in 2006) equivalent to the combined annual income of poorest 9.6 million families.

Diseases of poverty

Infectious diseases, or the so-called diseases of poverty, still dominate the country’s morbidity list. Data from the Department of Health show that eight of the top ten causes of morbidity are infectious in nature.

The economic divide is also evident in terms of accessing health services. While only
half of children from the lowest quintiles receive vaccinations, the figure rises to 83 percent for children belonging in the upper quintiles. For child health indicators, the country’s performance leaves much to be desired.

Only 25 percent of poor pregnant women give birth with professional attendance,
while 92 percent of women from the upper quintiles receive professional assistance. With the inequality in accessing maternal health care services, the Philippines’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) still lags behind other Asian countries.

For instance, the Philippines’s MMR is more than thrice the MMR of Thailand. The question is, why do women die in childbirth when childbirth is not a disease?

Health divide and access to medicines

Owing to extreme poverty, seven in ten Filipinos die without receiving medical treatment. The percentage of Filipinos dying without receiving medical treatment already went down in the 90s, but the upward trend re-emerges in 2000.

Majority of health workers (70 percent) are working in the private sector, which only serves 30 percent of the population. The problem is worsened by the migration of health workers, leaving some hospitals in dire need of staff. Instead of implementing measures to retain Filipino health professionals, the government is
actually promoting the exportation of its health professionals.

While majority of the population can hardly avail of much-needed health services in government facilities, the government is ironically promoting medical tourism using the public health care system. Projected revenues in medical tourism is expected to reach US$10 billion in the next five years.

In terms of access to pharmaceuticals, there is still a widespread preference for branded medicines owing mainly to aggressive marketing campaigns of foreign pharmaceutical companies. Generic medicines, while cheaper than branded ones, only have a four-percent market share.

Compared to other developing countries, the Philippines has the lowest spending, accounting for only two percent of pharmaceutical spending. There are a number of local pharmaceutical companies, but the industry is stunted owing to the lack of government support, biopiracy and bio-patenting, and diffi culty in registering
products with the Bureau of Food and Drugs Administration (BFAD). Local drug companies are actually required to submit more documents with BFAD, compared with multinational drug companies.

Source: Presentation by Dr. Edelina P. dela Paz, executive Director of HAIN, during the Regional Forum on Increasing Acces to Practical Health Information held on Nov. 27-28, 2009 at Bayview Hotel in Manila.