Dying on the Hospital Floor – New Internationalist on private care in the Philippines

Originally posted by Iris C. Gonzales, here.

In the blink of an eye, a loved one can die. And the moment will be gone forever. We cannot re-live it no matter how desperately or fervently we would want it to be different.

Be it a car accident, a robbery, a murder, a terminal illness or suicide, death can come in many forms. When our loved ones die, it is sudden, surprising, and never ever will it be timely. It leaves families helpless, as helpless as a melting candle or a withering plant.

A few weeks ago, Chit Estella, a veteran journalist and journalism professor died in a car crash as a speeding bus rammed into the taxi she was in. Chit was very near her destination but she never made it.

An old man walked just a few metres to buy his dearly beloved a greeting card and a rose. It was Valentine’s Day. But on his way to the store, his chest hurt and he found it difficult to breathe. After 21 days in a government-run hospital, he died.

To lose a loved one is dark, painful and surreal. The pain is too much – it can rip apart even the toughest of souls.

But let me tell you why it’s more difficult to see a loved one die in the Philippines, especially if the dearly beloved is sick. There is no effective public health system to begin with. If you belong to the 40 per cent of the 94 million Filipinos living below the poverty line, you have no recourse but to bring your sick relative to a government-run hospital. And in government hospitals here, you have to be on the brink of death for the doctors and nurses in the ER attend to you.

A few months ago, a distressed female walked into a state-owned hospital because she could not breathe. The resident doctors were playing games on their mobile phones and she had to wait for them to finish their games before she could tell them her problem.

A pregnant neighbour gave birth in a state-run hospital. She pleaded for anesthesia in between sobs but the attending doctors laughed off her request. Some even shouted at her, saying that because she chose to be pregnant, she should not be complaining at all.

There are many more horror stories. And people are dying on the cold floors of government hospitals because they cannot afford better treatment offered in private facilities.

In state-run hospitals, people die waiting for doctors to attend to their illnesses. They die while waiting for months for their turn to have an operation or a transplant or a cure for a terminal illness.

The number of doctors in these hospitals is limited and only a handful will serve to the best of their abilities. They are not paid as much as when they are employed in private hospitals. The facilities are of poor quality and the medicines are in smaller doses compared to what is given in their private counterparts.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the already limited government budget is being pocketed by corrupt politicians, their spouses and secret lovers.

The cost of health care in private hospitals is another story. For some of these hospital owners and operators, people’s lives are big business. The more terrible the sickness, the more money it means for them. Fees charged by private hospitals are not regulated by the government which means they can go as high as possible. Doctors’ fees are not regulated either and rarely do these professionals pay taxes religiously.

But don’t get me wrong. If my loved one is on the brink of death, I will do all that I can to pay for quality health care. I will give in to the high fees charged by private hospitals and I will not mind being indebted for the rest of my life to save the life of a loved one.

And if after all the treatment, your dearly beloved still does not make it, you have to pay your bill before you can get the death certificate from the hospital. According to local rules, if you don’t have a death certificate, you cannot bury the dead or cremate their remains.

To lose a loved one is never easy but here in the Philippines, it’s twice as hard.