At Large

PPP in health

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Some 1,000 government health workers walked out of their stations last Thursday to protest what they feared and denounced as a plan to “privatize” government hospitals.

The workers said the move towards privatization, beginning with the National Orthopedic Center and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, would work to the disadvantage of poor patients. One leader claimed that the move could deprive poor Filipinos of health services because they could no longer afford “the higher costs of services.”

As it happens, the protests took place a few days after the launching of “PPP (Private-Public Partnership) in Health Manila 2012,” a gathering at the Asian Development Bank of local and foreign authorities on health policy, health professionals, local chief executives, leaders of the health sector, and academicians and researchers.

Held for the first time in Asia, “PPP in Health Manila” sought to explore various strategies to ensure more efficient and at the same time more far-reaching health services for the public by harnessing the strengths of both public and private health sectors.

In the keynote speech, read for President Aquino by Health Secretary Enrique Ona, the President said that in the past two years, the government had been exploring ways “to maximize the health system and improve the health of the people.” At the press conference following the launch, Ona said the “PPP in Health” was in line with the “current thrust of the Aquino government which recognizes the essential role of the private sector.”

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THE public health system, said Ona, has proven over the years to be woefully inadequate, and that to provide health coverage to every Filipino, the private sector needs to be drawn in to participate in providing services, sharing updated knowledge, and modeling best practices in health delivery. “Regardless of how much government would give (as share of the budget) to the health sector,” Ona noted, “there will never be enough funds for healthcare (for everyone).”

Background material lays out the premises: “At the backdrop is a precarious health situation where there are still an alarming 60 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in Asia—almost double that of Latin America and the Caribbean. Governments journey through such complexities that require them to tackle changing disease patterns, raise the service quality, and ensure equitable access to healthcare to (their) population.”

The same material says the program introduces “private sector funds and expertise in areas that are normally the responsibility of the government.”

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AS FOR the bogey of an anticipated hike in health costs, Ona said the key to making the PPP in health a success is “a robust and vibrant health insurance system,” expressing optimism that “soon all (Filipinos) will be covered by PhilHealth,” putting even complicated procedures within reach of ordinary Filipinos.

The goal of the PPP in health, added the secretary, is a health system that is “affordable, accessible and (of) high-quality.”

For now, the PPP in health is still under study, although the health secretary says he indeed intends to start with a new Orthopedic Center which will stand on government-owned land, staffed with a government workforce, but will be equipped with machinery and equipment financed through a partnership with the private sector.

Still, acknowledges Geoffrey Hamilton of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), it’s still early days for PPP in health. Saying that they are still compiling “international best practices in PPP,” he bemoans the lack of “objective evaluation, or any evaluation at all,” to judge the success of any partnership.

Thus, the Philippines, with support from the Australian government, ADB and UNECE, will host the “International PPP Specialist Center for Health” to document the lessons learned from the country’s venture into this field.

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HERE’S a scary story, and it has nothing to do with Halloween.

It’s also a story about how social status cannot protect a woman from harassment, even if she is the daughter of a congressional representative, and even if she is a former government official.

Carissa Cruz Evangelista, a former undersecretary of the Department of Trade, has filed a complaint with the Bureau of Immigration regarding her brush with a brusque and threatening neighbor in her Makati condominium.

As she tells it in her affidavit-complaint submitted to the Bureau of Immigration, Evangelista, the daughter of Pangasinan Rep. Gina de Venecia, was called by security guards to the parking area of her Makati condominium because a neighbor was loudly complaining about the way her vehicle was parked.

When she reached the place, attests Evangelista, she found that indeed she had parked her SUV over the dividing line of her parking slot. She spotted her neighbor, Muhammad Ali Nasser al Shehri, a Saudi national, and approached him, apologizing for the inconvenience she had caused.

Instead of responding cordially, she recounts, Nasser began shouting and ranting at her, at one point even threatening to slash her tires. Alarmed at the ruckus Nasser was raising, two security guards tried to restrain him but he started yelling at them for their “temerity.” As the guards tried to find an alternative parking space for him, Nasser continued to shout at Evangelista, glaring at her all the while and declaring: “I am a man!”

In her affidavit, Evangelista averred that she suffered “fright, trauma, mental anguish, and anxieties from the experience.” She is filing charges of grave threats against Nasser, which, I wonder, if found to be tenable, are enough to have this Saudi national and harasser of women deported.

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