Uncertainties in our ailing health sector

Published by rudy Date posted on January 16, 2009

If there was anything that had stuck out like a sore thumb with regards the health sector last year, it was the hollow victory that marked the passage of the long delayed Universally Accessible, Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008.

After the bill turned into law, and with the release of its implementing rules and regulations late last year, our countrymen find themselves asking: Where are those cheap but quality life-saving medicines as promised by our lawmakers?

So much drama – and so many years – had taken place for the so-called cheap medicines bill to pass into law, a David-versus-Goliath battle as the pro-cheap medicines believers went through the proverbial eye of the needle against giant multinational pharmaceutical firms and their allies in Congress and even against many professionals in the healthcare industry.

Today, the proponents of the bill, which includes Sen. Mar Roxas II who first championed the idea of bringing in cheap medicines to the country during his term as Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) chief, are warning that vigilance is needed for the Filipino nation to actually taste the fruit of their effort to bring medicines within reach of the poorer sector of the country.

We are being assured that RA 9502 is one piece of legislation that, when fully supported and enforced, would pave the way for the entry of cheaper medicines via parallel importation, for manufacturing opportunities and for more flexibility in trade and competition policies.

Yet, no less than health secretary Francisco Duque III is advising patience, that the drop in prices of medicines would be gradual since the law only took effect recently and that there is a need to further increase the number of Botika ng Bayan and Botika ng Barangay outlets throughout the country.

More BnBs needed

The health secretary is calling on the private sector and even local government officials to support the campaign for cheaper medicines by setting up BnB outlets in their localities and making these more accessible to the people.

Currently, there are some 14,000 BnB outlets all over the country, with the health department aiming to raise the number to 15,000 by the end of next year. Considering that there are 42,000 barangays in the country, our countrymen living in remote barrios would likely not see these cheap medicines for a long time yet.

By the way, the Philippine International Trade Corp. (PITC) offers three or five-year financing on friendlier terms and interest rates to owners and operators of either existing or start-up drug stores or botikas nationwide who wish to be an accredited Botika ng Bayan outlet.

Bleeding public hospitals dry

If you think that the height of selfishness lies in the way some of our lawmakers tried to block the passage of the cheaper medicines law, listen to how some of those we chose to represent us in government callously called for significant budget cuts in the already measly budgets of key government specialty hospitals.

In last year’s 2009 budget deliberations, the Senate proposed significant cuts to the Lower House’s budget appropriations for the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute and Philippine Children’s Medical Center.

What’s more nauseating and sickening is that some P20 billion was said to have been added by the concerned senators for their “pet” projects, which included those so-called special economic zones tucked away in their rural fiefdoms that are more renowned for smuggling and other illegal activities.

Under the Senate budget proposal, PHC’s budget will be slashed from the Lower House-approved appropriations of P417 million to P236 million; NKTI, from P315.5 million to P198.5 million; PCMC, from P298.5 million to P251 million; and the LCP from P163.6 million to P161.6 million.

Cutting budgetary allocations is the last thing these vital institutions need. There is always a shortage of funds for charity patients as well as of personnel, including inadequate equipment.

Nurse glut

A massive oversupply of nurses was likewise highlighted last year, another health issue that must be adequately addressed sooner than later.

The Professional Regulation Commission reported that there are around 400,000 nursing graduates, and still counting pending the results of the December 2008 nursing board exam due next month. A big majority are not able to find gainful employment as nurses since only 60,000 nursing jobs are locally available.

A PRC official who has lost touch with reality consoled the jobless nurses that many overseas markets for nurses would open up, perhaps unaware that foreign employers require nurses armed with a significant number of years of hospital/clinical experience.

How can one take advantage of the overseas market when he or she can’t even get his or her hands wet in local hospitals? Still, many schools continue misleading young hopefuls by promising bright nursing careers overseas after graduation.

Mass production of unqualified nurses

The massive enrolment in nursing courses has resulted in the mass production of nurses who are either poorly skilled or are unemployable due to the glut. Government must act fast to make sure that the quality of locally educated registered nurses are up to par with global standards by finally weeding out diploma mills which it has promised but failed to do many years back.

In addition, if government cannot open up more healthcare facilities or lure private hospital investors, then it should implement mechanisms to discourage more nursing students, and instead encourage enrolment in courses that are integral to the economic recovery and development of our agriculture and allied sciences.

Congratulations, Lexus Manila

Despite persistent talks about the gloomy outlook for 2009, Danny Isla, president of Lexus Manila, Inc., is exuding with confidence about the prospects of Lexus in the upper-class market in the Philippines. “Toyota’s view in the Philippines is long term and the launching of Lexus here at this point of time is proof of our company’s confidence in the local market,” remarked Danny during our conversation over fresh and tasty Japanese dishes served during the recent inauguration of the Lexus showroom at Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

And if the turnout during the launching night of Lexus is any indication, then Danny seems to be on track.–Rey Gamboa, Philippine Star 

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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