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Build health infrastructure

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2021 - 12:00am

The one major fault of our health system that COVID made deathly obvious is the inadequacy of our health infrastructure. We saw it in Metro Manila, where COVID patients have died in hospital driveways or tents because the emergency rooms and ICUs had no beds to spare.

If health infrastructure is bad in NCR, you can imagine how it is in the countryside. Our government has simply neglected investing in hospitals and health centers for decades. In some areas, it is said that people live and die without seeing a doctor or any medical personnel.

In NCR, most of the hospitals are privately owned and for profit, and are fast becoming unaffordable even for the middle class. We need more public hospitals with the quality of PGH because health care is a basic right of every citizen.

According to Sen. Ralph Recto, the share of health in the 2021 P1 trillion infrastructure pie is a measly “one percent”. Recto is right that it is “a kind of budget prioritization that turns a blind eye to the health facility shortages the pandemic has laid bare.”

Recto said the government’s Build Build Build blueprint should “accommodate changes” the pandemic has made urgent.

“If we are willing to spend P1 trillion on BBB, why not also have a BBB for our local hospitals? There is nothing in the budget to increase bed capacity at the local level – district, provincial or regional hospitals…

“The pandemic is a CT-scan which gave us an image on how bad the internal structure of our public health system is,” Recto said

There is this perceptive Facebook post of Christine Cunanan, daughter of journalist Belinda Olivares Cunanan, that compared our situation with Japan, where she is a longtime resident.

“If there are two lessons for the Philippines from this pandemic, these are for the government to invest more in improving our public hospitals and to raise health awareness among the general population via a realistic and sustained campaign for long-term wellness of Filipinos.

“The Philippines needs more good and well-equipped hospitals in every major district — not just shoddy buildings with inadequate facilities and a hospital sign.

“Looking at the numbers of Japan, for example, the COVID infection rates are probably the same or even higher. We don’t do testing here at all unless someone has to go abroad or shows symptoms. So, there’s probably way more COVID here, except we’re not aware, so life goes on. No vaccines in the foreseeable future either, although life is crazy normal.

“However, the mortality rate in Japan is noticeably lower. This is really the COVID litmus test. And the main reason much fewer people are dying from COVID in Japan is because they have access to quality medical care wherever they are.

“There’s enough hospitals capable of handling serious COVID complications and no shortage of supplies. Hospitals are calm places and there is no hysteria about PPEs or bed supplies in the ERs. I just was at an ER recently and the staff were in normal clothes only, with disposable masks. Backoffice personnel were even wearing suits.

“Our health officials should really focus on improving public health infrastructure instead of debating useless things.

“When the choice is people dying unattended in the streets, with zero survival rates because our medical system is collapsing, I would focus on fast tracking anything at all that would help manage this awful situation the Philippines is now in.”

Christine’s post reminded me of the Quezon Institute where temporary structures were built to attend to the overflow of COVID cases. QI was built many decades ago to treat tuberculosis. In those days, TB was a scary infectious disease.

QI is a 6.5-hectare campus of nicely designed buildings by Juan Nakpil, a national artist. The National Historical Commission should order its preservation and restoration.

The whole complex should be retrofitted as a general hospital to relieve pressure on PGH, San Lazaro and other government hospitals, specially in treating infectious diseases. QI’s airy grounds with decades old acacias, provide a good atmosphere for recuperation. Its wide-open space provides the lungs for that overbuilt section of Quezon City.

But QI is privately owned by the Philippine Tuberculosis Society and might have been sold to a property developer.

There was a report in 2011 that Ayala Land has expressed interest in the lot, eyeing a mixed-use development for the area, meaning residential buildings, corporate offices and commercial establishments.

Horrors! The last thing we need there is another mall or condominium. Government should buy that property or go into a partnership with whoever bought it and build that new general hospital.

In any case, the Ayalas are starting to invest in hospitals and health care facilities. Maybe, if it is true that they have already bought QI, they should redirect development plans for it by keeping it as a major health care facility that it was in the past.

Since the Ayalas are big on heritage, they can plan any redevelopment to preserve the Nakpil-designed buildings. They have done it for Nielson Tower.

Because our health infrastructure sucks, the QI presents a great opportunity for an entity like Ayala to make money and serve the health needs of common people. Or maybe Ramon Ang may want to take it on.

Actually, building hospitals is now the next priority of San Miguel’s Ramon Ang. As he explained to us in a Zoom conference last week, he wants to do something about the shortage of health infrastructure and healthcare workers.

He is initially thinking of two hospitals, one in Laguna and another in Bulacan near his airport. His concept provides for limited beds but a large area where walk-in patients can consult with doctors. Schools of medicine and nursing are in the plans.

The one in Bulacan is a bit more ambitious. Ang said he is talking to Stanford to help bring that hospital and medical school to international standards. It raised my eyebrows when he mentioned Stanford, but who knows… he may just pull it off.

We need people in business and government to dream big dreams. How else can we become a country we can all be proud of?

 

 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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