Urban poor groups stage protest at DOH office

MILITANT members of urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap launced a protest action this morning the head office of the Department of Health against the looming privatization of public hospitals under the Aquino’s Public-Private Partnership Program.

The group brought with them a funeral wreath to symbolize the agency’s clear intention to end the lives of its indigent patients as it pursues its privatization efforts.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona had earlier denied that a privatization initiative of public hospitals is underway, and that ‘corporatization’ of public hospitals in the country is necessary to make up for the chronic shortfall in government funds available for public health, and would allow hospitals to divert revenue to health care for indigent patients.

Kadamay called Ona a big liar following his remark, as the group asked the Health secretary to stop misleading the public.

According to Gloria Arellano, Kadamay national chair, “The privatization of public hospitals will literally kill the poor, as the poor will have no more affordable medical facilities to go to. Privatization of public hospitals is a very certain catastrophe in the making.”

According to Health Alliance for Democracy, 6 out of 10 poor patients die of curable diseases in the country for having no access to affordable medical services.

“Even under the present arrangement, hospital care at either a public or private facility is out of reach for a majority of Filipinos, at least one-fourth of whom live below the poverty line. The number of fatalities will soar once the privatization of public hospitals is implemented amidst the widespread unemployment and the meager wage that suffice only to the costs of food and education,” according to Kadamay.

Among the hospitals that are intended to be privatized in the coming years are the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital, Jose Fabella Hospital, San Lazaro Hospital, Quirino Hospital and National Mental Health Hospital. Not less than 70% of the patients of these hospitals belong to the classes D and E. At least 23 other public hospitals in different regions in the country will undergo the same privatization process under the Aquino Health Agenda (AHA).

PPP Projects in Health rolling out

“Despite the wide public protests, the Aquino government is hell-bent in starting different PPP projects in the health sector,” cited Arellano.

The DOH has officially rolled out and issued the invitation to qualify and bid (ITB) for the Modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (MPOC) project last November 18, 2012. The project, estimated to cost PHP 5.6 billion, involves the construction of a 700-bed capacity super-specialty tertiary orthopedic hospital that will be located within the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) compound in Quezon City.

DOH undersecretary Dr. Teodoro Herbosa, who heads the DOH Task Force for PPP and Health Facilities Enhancement Program, said that medical costs at hospitals like the POC will not increase when they become semi-privatized under the PPP projects, adding that 70 percent of beds in these hospitals will be reserved for sponsored patients that include poor and lower-middle class patients whose medical costs will be subsidized by Philhealth.

DOH claims challenged

But Kadamay easily challenged the DOH official’s claim.

“Once hospitals are privatized, poor patients will start to pay for services that are totally free in public hospitals, including the cost of room charges, food and services of medical attendants. A poor patient will be charged at least a P1,000 if confined in these hospitals aside from significant out-of-pocket expenses. Without a stable source of income, poor patients would rather not go to hospitals anymore,” Arellano stated.

Kadamay also claimed that although about 22 million Filipinos are covered by the government-run Philhealth insurance program, even this typically covers only about 30% of hospitalization costs, as the annual premium of P1200 for the health insurance is unbearable to its poor beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, assistance from Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), funded by the proceeds of the national lottery, which generally has an upper limit of 70 to 80 percent of hospital expenses, is currently only available in public hospitals; how this program will be affected by the privatization initiative is still unknown.

Imposition of financial institutions

“The privatization of health services in the country is but a dictate of World Bank as stated in its 1993 report ‘Investing in Health’.

“Privatization of basic services, which is part of Aquino’s Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016, is an imposition of international financial institutions on Third World Countries like the Philippines to ensure that they could regularly service their foreign debts,” Arellano said.

Bigger protest against privatization of public hospitals

“The poor will to do everything to stop the planned privatization of these hospitals, as we will never be misled by the sugarcoated PPP projects of the DOH and the Aquino government.” she added.

Today’s action is only among the militant protests to be staged by Kadamay against the looming privatization of public hospitals. Aside from demolition of their homes, it will be one of the main issues that the urban poor will bring up on the big mobilization come November 30.

Kadamay also plans to stage on Bonifacio Day a big die-in protest outside the Philippine Orthopedic Center to be joined by at least a thousand urban poor from Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

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