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Editorial Opinion

In shambles

The Philippines was never ready for a pandemic, and yet here we are. From the lack of hospital beds to the scarcity of ventilators, the country’s weak healthcare infrastructure has become prone to collapse, as those in the highest offices of the government continue to blunder in their response. This lack of decisive leadership and equitable policies has only created a system that deprives Filipinos access to quality healthcare. 

At a crucial time where the masses crave accessibility, the gap between the poor and their right to healthcare has only seemed to widen. The public health crisis we are facing emerges from our very privatized system. It is no secret that healthcare in the Philippines is a business first and a public service second. Since the 70s, the healthcare system has been steadily deregulated and decentralized. 

As a result, government hospitals are forced to charge fees to sustain operations, while multi-payer schemes through health insurance companies have also become the norm.

When public health is heavily privatized, the onus is always on the individual.  These practices not only hurt patients but healthcare workers too. Subject to contractualization and competition, they are driven out of the country. In the wake of the pandemic, we have seen the same healthcare workers overworked and unfairly compensated, hospitals overburdened, and patients dealt with exorbitant bills. This flawed scheme has been leaving behind Filipinos long before COVID-19.

Now, with a vaccine coming—though we hardly have any idea when—our country’s health system now faces the added challenge of coming up with an optimal strategy to make the shots available to the public.

Aims of herd immunity and the equity of public health are far-fetched realities in a developing country like ours, where the health system is already struggling to be sustained. Vaccine distribution at the hands of a government that has denied mass testing for the better part of the year will not be an easy feat. With how the administration handled the pandemic, we face the harmful possibility that when the vaccine does come, it may be treated as a scarce commodity for a privileged few. Only those who can afford to get sick will be able to protect themselves; those who cannot eventually pay more than they ever should.

Filipinos deserve better leadership and not this patchwork of flimsy measures, protocols, and program rollouts. To even begin to comprehend the systemic solutions needed to address the pandemic in the country, we need to reevaluate our understanding of healthcare first—that the system in place is one that is ruled by profit. To dismantle this is to demand a better system that views healthcare as a right. To start this change is to hold our officials accountable and to demand that they invest in an equitable healthcare system.

By The LaSallian

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