Monday, July 19, 2010

Ona backs release of ‘Morong 43,’ health subsidies for poor

By Dona Pazzibugan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Health Secretary Enrique Ona agreed with representatives of cause-oriented groups that the 43 community health workers arrested in February in Morong, Rizal on suspicion of being communist rebels should be released.

In a dialogue, the Alliance of Health Workers national president Emma Manuel, Health Alliance for Democracy secretary general Dr. Geneve Rivera, and union leaders in national government hospitals in Metro Manila also raised the following issues with Ona:
  • Increase in next year’s health budget to P90 billion (from the current P24 billion);
  • Free health care and medicines for the poor;
  • Increase in the salary and benefits of health workers;
  • A stop to any planned privatization of government hospitals;
  • More health professionals to far-flung areas; and
  • Assessment of the performance of directors of some government hospitals “because there have been issues of corruption and abuse in some hospitals.”

“I’m very familiar with all these things. I am not new in the DoH. I’m here to make sure we understand each other. I hope you understand that I support the issues you’ve raised to the best of my ability,” Ona told them.

Ona, a leading transplant surgeon, had been director of the National Kidney Transplant Institute since 1998 before he accepted President Benigno Aquino III’s offer to be health secretary.

As his predecessor Esperanza Cabral did, he gave his support to the AHW and the HEAD’s call for the release of the so-called “Morong 43.”

“I wish we can get (a budget of) P90 billion. Since it was P24 billion last year, our target is to get P60 billion,” said Ona, who revealed that one of the reasons why he was persuaded to leave his medical practice and accept the health portfolio was Aquino’s promise to “significantly increase” the health budget.

He said the government could help the poor get access to health care through the automatic enrolment of some 25 million “really indigent” Filipinos in the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth).

The minimum Philhealth annual premium is P1,200 or P100 a month.

“I also think it’s very necessary that we differentiate Filipinos who can afford to pay P100 a month because the government cannot afford to offer all basic services for free. That’s why we have a system like Philhealth,” he said.

Ona, however, asked the health workers to be pragmatic and realize that public hospitals could not rely solely on government financing. But he assured the health workers that government hospitals would not be privatized.

He stressed that the Department of Health would observe the “zero-based budgeting” principle where allocations in past years would not be automatically adopted.

“That is our dream, to provide (free) health care services to all. But we have to look at our capacity given that the health sector has not been given that much budget in past years,” he said.

“Our hospitals and (barangay health) clinics have not been given attention. I know that it’s said of some hospitals, ‘they just lie there and die there.’ I intend to change it as soon as possible,” he said.

He said he understood very well the lack of health professionals in the provinces and the inadequate salaries and benefits given to public health workers.

Ona’s parents were public health workers themselves: His father who was also a doctor was the first provincial health officer of Zamboanga Del Sur while his mother was a health center nurse.

As to corruption charges against certain hospital directors, Ona said the complaints “have to go through the legal process.”

Reposted From Inquirer.Net
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Justice for the 43!