Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Global Crisis and People’s Health

The month of July ended with news on climate change, war, violence, militarization and emergence of new forms of diseases.

Parts of eastern India and Bangladesh have been devastated by the worst floods in these countries’ history, killing more than 2,000 people. Millions more have been left homeless, without any adequate supplies of food, water, and medicines.

The WHO explains that climate change has direct impacts on people’s health in terms of temperature-related illness and death, the health impacts of extreme weather events, and the effects of air pollution in the form of spores and moulds. Other impacts follow more intricate pathways such as those that give rise to water- and food-borne diseases; vector-borne and rodent-borne diseases; or food and water shortages.

Doctors warn that people’s health is more at risk now with the reemergence of old types of diseases in newer and virtually untreatable forms while there were also 19 new diseases discovered recently.

Indeed, all parts of the world are vulnerable to climate change but developing countries tend to suffer more since these are not prepared for potential environmental and health-related impacts.

While South Asia reels from floods, the United States of America is more focused in another equally devastating thing – a $50-billion aid to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that could include the latest weaponry and other means of mass destruction.

Already, the cost of the US-Iraq war is more than $100 billion, an amount that would provide one year of health care for 30 million children.

In a forum on The Global Crisis and People’s Health, held in Balay Kalinaw at the University of the Philippines in Diliman last July 31, health activists pointed out that further militarization pose the greatest threat to health and peace. “Under the guise of a ‘war on terror’, the United States is trying to enforce global hegemony at a terrifying cost to people’s health,” said Dr. Edelina dela Paz, the coordinator of People’s Health Movement (PHM) in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

“All these are for the USA’s quest for non-renewable resources. For instance, the US appeases Sudan for the sake of oil, Afghanistan because of the riches of Central Asia and most blatantly Iraq only because of its oil resource”, said Dr. Prem Chandran John, the co-chair of the Global Steering Council of PHM.

According to Dr. Prem John, the USA’s desire to rule the world is worrisome for global health conditions. He cited that the USA, which only has the world’s 6% population, is using 28% of the world’s resources.

Dr. Prem John mentioned the Titanic Syndrome, likening the world to a sinking ship that has no enough lifeboats. He explained, “The US and its allies rule the world economy for their own good and only incidentally for the benefit of others. And the weak will invariably drown.”

The Filipinos’ Health and Government Neglect

With all the global issues on climate change and US-led wars of aggression, the Filipinos are not spared from suffering and death.

Year after year, health care for most Filipinos has become more difficult, expensive and inaccessible.

Mr. Sonny Africa, the research coordinator of Ibon Foundation, revealed that 69 million Filipinos (80% of population) struggle to survive on P96 or less a day (US$2). No wonder about half of the Filipino population (46 million) go hungry everyday and are unable to meet minimum nutritional needs.

In addition to this, Africa also cited that 67% of Filipinos die without getting any medical attention. Not only because poor Filipinos cannot afford medical care and services, but also the country has shortage of medical professionals. The Philippines is the number one exporter of nurses worldwide. Because of low wages and benefits for health professionals, many of them opt to work abroad for greener pasture. Data shows that 85% of Filipino nurses work abroad in some 50 countries. Since 2003, around 3,000 doctors went abroad as nurses. From 2003-2005, 200 hospitals completely closed and 800 partially closed for lack of doctors/nurses.

Africa blamed the worsening state neglect on health as a major cause of poor health situation. The government allocates a very minimum budget on health. The country’s health budget is a mere 0.3% of its GDP, way below the World Health Organization-prescribed 5%. In terms of total expenditure on health, out of the 192 countries, the Philippines ranks 174th. The government’s total health expenditure is only 3.4% while in terms of private expenditure, the country ranks 39th with about 60% of health expenditures coming from private sector.

In the midst of Filipino suffering, Africa pointed out that the net worth of 10 richest Filipinos reaches to US$12.4 billion in 2006. This is equivalent to combined annual income of poorest 9,600,000 families (approximately 49 million Filipinos). Health crisis and conditions is even worst for the country’s basic sectors (peasants, workers, informal workers…)

Pharmaceutical firms also rake in big profit at the expense of people’s health. The top 10 pharmaceutical firms in the country have a total of P58.5 billion in revenues as cost of medicines remains to be high and unaffordable among the poor.

And what more can we expect from the government when in fact its priorities is not catering to uplift the health situation of the poor people. Of the supposedly P13.5 billion budget for health in 2006, 9.1% (P1.3 billion) goes to the improvement of two military hospitals. Furthermore, the government allows the privatization of public hospitals to promote “medical tourism” which aims to lure rich people from other nations to come to the Philippines for their medical care and at the same time promote tourism of the Philippines.

Plea for Health

PHM calls for a humane society that guarantees the people's right to health. Members of PHM which is composed of health activists from different countries initiated “The Right to Health Campaign.” This international campaign calls for action on the widening global health gap between the rich and the poor. PHM expresses grief over the deteriorating health conditions and inequities in the vast majority of the world’s population.

The PHM forum was also held in different Southeast Asian cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta, Hanoi and Phom Penh as part of strengthening of the PHM in the Southeast Asian region. The Health Action Information Network (HAIN) and the Council for Health and Development organized the forum in the Philippines.

For more information, contact PHM-Philippines secretariat (HAIN) at 952-6312 or 9526409, hain@hain.org

1 comment:

Arige Prakash said...

How Necessary Are Medical Tourism Companies?Does it make more sense to plan my health vacation on my own or to use a medical tourism company to help out with the details. The latter is more expensive but seems a great deal easier.


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