Health workers in the Philippines are up in arms against the government’s attempt to privatize public hospitals. They say privatization of public hospitals will further marginalize the poor since private investors will think first of profit before service.
On May 7, G3W’ s partner, The Council for Health and Development (CHD), together with health workers from various organizations, marked the celebration of National Health Workers Day with a protest-rally to oppose the privatization of government hospitals.
The privatization of government hospitals is part of the Department of Health’s strategy to modernize the country’s public hospitals through the public-private partnership program (PPP) of the government, a flagship program of President Aquino’s administration.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona was quoted as saying that all government-run hospitals in the country are candidates for PPP as part of the government’s program to reform the health system.
Lack of funds, the health department claims, is the main reason the government has opened up the modernization of public hospitals to private investors.
But critics are saying that since the last two decades the government has been trying to privatize hospitals to cover up its failure to adequately fund public hospitals and provide free health services to the people, especially the poor.
They said that the failure to allocate adequate funds for public hospitals in particular and health services in general is the result of institutionalized corruption in the government. Public funds intended for the delivery of basic social services to the people always end up in private pockets, particularly of the lawmakers themselves.
An investigation is now ongoing over the “pork barrel” scam involving several lawmakers over the alleged misuse of their discretionary funds for their priority development projects. It was estimated that government lost more than P10 billion in this particular scam alone.
Further displacement of the poor
In a statement, CHD maintains that the entry of private investors in public hospitals and health services will raise the cost of health services in public hospitals and further displace the poor patients.
“If public hospitals are privatized, the poor are the first to suffer. Poor patients not only have to contend with disease but also the highly expensive costs of the services.”
It said that privatization violates the constitutionally guaranteed rights to health care. It questioned why the government would abandon its duty of providing public health services stressing that based on the country’s past experiences, public services (like water and electricity) that went into private hands inevitably led to higher prices and job losses.
The staff of CHD are joining other health workers to make the rounds of public hospitals to encourage hospital workers, medical professionals and the public to oppose the attempt to transform public hospitals into corporate entities.