Health scarce | Inquirer Opinion
In the Pink of Health

Health scarce

“Duktora, kailan po kayo uuwi para maihuli ko kayo ng ulang bilang pasasalamat at baka hindi na po tayo magkita.” Those words came from “Toto“ who was paying me a visit at 7 a.m. to relay the joyous news that his one-month-old son, whom I had seen for pneumonia the day before was cured. Though this happened several years ago, memories of that morning remain vivid, and of how I struggled to hold on to my “brave doctor face” when all I wanted to do was cry. His son had definitely been needing admission, but the nearest health facility was an arduous four-hour journey from where we were. There was no option left but to make do with what was on hand, and we had to act fast.

Medicine, where was it available? Thankfully, it was just a 10-minute tricycle ride to the center of the town. The only pharmacy was part of a general merchandise store, which was located directly in front of a church. After having bought the supplies and administering the first dose of an antibiotic, I offered a silent prayer. It was 3 p.m. and a Good Friday. We were in need of a miracle.


Writing this piece brings another onslaught of memories of conversations with two friends, a colleague and a nun. Early on in her career, she had chosen to be a doctor to the barrios. She recounted the story of how she transported a woman who was profusely bleeding from impending childbirth and how helpless she was in spite of her expertise. Faced with the absence of equipment and supplies, all she could do was hold her patient’s legs up while shining a flashlight to monitor her condition and, at the same, guide the boatman while motoring to their destination in the dead of the night. Sister has been in her mission area for the last 15 years. In her words, “Sa bundok namin, mamatay muna ang patient bago makarating sa ospital. Travel ka muna ng five hours on rough roads crossing rivers and mountains, kaya bawal magkasakit.”

Taking out the factor of cost, availability is not a concern for the various logistics involved, be it manpower or supplies when in urban areas. How does one cope when you do not have the complement of both, or at best only one of the two? What happens even if provided, demand is overwhelming and outruns the supply? Just think about having lived and survived not only the past two years but of the current health situation, which sadly is a reflection of how it seems not to have been a top priority. No lengthy discussions are needed. Reasons are multifactorial, and it would be of no help to rehash obvious missteps nor go through the often-used route of finding blame and pointing fingers. The only option left is to concentrate on providing grounded solutions by translating what already has been written and good on paper to action. Having taken part in numerous stakeholder meetings, let me assure you that there are existing rules and well-thought-of plans, but all these need to be operationalized. This is where the human factor plays a vital role. People make things work and move.


On a daily basis, I live with the harsh reality of how health care access is vastly different for the rich and for the financially challenged. It would not be hard to fall into a trap of negativity, frustration, and hopelessness, most especially when you have reached that tipping point brought on by extreme physical and mental exhaustion. Slipping into it is an easy slide but only if you allow it. My personal take, try looking at these situations as the very things that can rekindle and sustain your idealism and “something can be done” if you just will it.

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TAGS: healthcare access, In The Pink of Health, rural health facilities
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