Tuesday, June 12, 2018

HEAD joins #Hindipendence day protests

Press Release: June 12, 2018

Health Alliance for Democracy, an organization of doctors, nurses, midwives, health professionals, hospital workers and community health workers, health science students and health advocates, ask the Duterte administration, what independence is there to celebrate?

Amidst the surge in prices of commodities and failure to deliver promises, the Duterte administration sets another bad precedent by conniving with two superpowers.   Both of which only seek to benefit from unequal deals with the Philippines, while strengthening their influence in the Southeast Asian region.

On one hand, the US builds up its military might on Philippine soil, establishing bases and accumulating weapons in restricted areas that even our own forces and government has no jurisdiction on. US forces have also been involved during the Marawi conflict. Joint military exercises under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement, and Mutual Defense Treaty allow the influx of armed US personnel into the country. To add salt on open wounds, US forces who commit crimes in the country are neither tried nor jailed under Philippine law, but are rather kept safe on US bases in the Philippines. The US still refuse to be responsible over their toxic wastes, which they dumped in our lands and seas.

On the other is the Chinese occupation of Panatag shoal and other nearby islands in the West Philippine Sea. Chinese military bases and landing pads have been completed, and China even boasts about these illegal structures by conducting tours exclusive for Chinese citizens. While the Duterte administration reassures the Filipino people that Chinese missiles are not directed towards the Philippines, there is no assurance that it won't be in the future. Last Friday, a Chinese military aircraft also landed at Davao International Airport to supposedly refuel. Worse, fishermen in the West Philippine Sea can no longer fish freely and are harassed by the Chinese coast guard as if we are aliens in our own seas. On top of these, Chinese contractors have exclusively bagged most projects under Duterte's build build build program.

These violations over our country's sovereignty only keep piling up as the Duterte administration continues its economic policy in favor of foreign interests. Allowing both superpowers to strengthen their military in Philippine territory puts Filipinos and the country under serious threat. Military presence from both countries allows them to keep their demands up, and the Duterte administration does nothing but oblige to unequal trade and economic deals.

HEAD therefore joined multi-sectoral organizations, peasants, workers, youth and other organizations on June 12, Independence day. The groups trooped in front of the Chinese Embassy to condemn China's continuing occupation of Philippine islands. Likewise, the health group joined the march towards the US Embassy to protest the establishment of new military bases and joint military exercises.

Filipinos have yet to enjoy genuine independence, and instead we suffer from more economic and political restrictions brought by China and US meddling with our policies. The Filipino people must continue to resist foreign encroachment and influence on Philippine soil and seas.##

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

PhilHealth anomalies continue under Duterte

Press Release: June 6, 2018

Amidst proposals to increase its premium contributions, PhilHealth proves itself to be a means for corruption by erring officials, not only during the Aquino administration but also under the current administration. Hard-earned taxpayer's money and premium contributions go to the pockets of its officials, and maybe even their bosses higher up in the government echelon.

As an insurance policy patterned over the United States economic policies, PhilHealth's design is flawed. It has been failing to serve the interests of most Filipinos, especially the poor; whereas it ensures the income of private institutions through incentives and reimbursements, it has always been decidedly prone to corruption by feeding the greed of its officials.

Just a week ago, it was revealed that a P10.6 billion fund was illegally "funneled to the Department of Health in 2015." This was during the same time the funds for the anomalous Dengvaxia vaccine were released. Former Health Secretary Garin and PhilHealth chief Padilla denied allegations of their involvement. The P10.6 billion fund is still missing.

Last month, the Commission on Audit reported a total of P9 billion unaudited loss for PhilHealth in 2017, P627,000 of which was solely for travel expenditures by former PhilHealth Officer-in-Charge Dela Serna. The Philippine Hospital Association of the Philippines also threatened to withdraw its members' PhilHealth accreditation because of anomalies on PhilHealth's online reimbursement claims; PhilHealth owes private hospitals billions by May 2018.

Over the years, PhilHealth's bloated budget of hundreds of billions has never succeeded in providing 100% coverage and 100% free healthcare among Filipinos. Out-of-pocket expenditures on health remain at 50%, rural communities have yet to see a health worker let alone a health center, and seven out of ten Filipinos still die without ever seeing a health professional. Amidst propaganda of a supposedly better and effective healthcare system, PhilHealth has bared its true form: a pillar of corruption, an old-new form of bureaucratism.

Officials now reveal that PhilHealth funds have been depleted, justifying the need for increased premium contributions. Yet the growing list of serious blunders and corruption among PhilHealth's officials, then and now, makes us think. Why must the Filipino people shoulder the burden of increased premiums when it was the government who erred and failed us? Why do Filipinos, amidst increased price of commodities caused by TRAIN Law, have to suffer another collection increase that only goes to the pocket of a few?

As matters stand, neither accountability nor persecution of involved officials by the Duterte administration is in sight. Health Alliance and Democracy therefore calls on all medical professionals, doctors, nurses, midwives, health workers and community health workers, health science students, patients and health advocates to decry PhilHealth as a venue for corrupt officials to steal public funds. Under the growing threat of dictatorship and tyranny, we must continue to expose and resist government economic policies that favor corruption and private interests over the health of the people.

The struggle for a free, comprehensive and progressive healthcare shall continue and strengthen so long as we keep our voices heard.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

On the killing of Palestinian nurse Razan Ashraf al-Najjar

Press Release: June 5, 2018

Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) strongly condemns the fatal shooting of volunteer nurse-paramedic Razan Ashraf al-Najjar, 21 by Israeli snipers as she was helping treat and evacuate wounded protesters east of Khan Younis, Gaza last June 1.  She was seen wearing clothing clearly identifying her as a medic and with raised arms as an affirmation of not posing any danger to the heavily armed occupation forces. Hundreds suffered tear gas inhalation and seizures while 68 other civilians including 8 children, 7 paramedics and 2 journalists were wounded after Israeli forces open fired bullets and tear gas canisters in that peaceful Gaza demonstration.

Razan Ashraf al-Najjar, photo from the New York Times.

Nurse Razan al-Najjar is the second rescue worker to be killed by Israeli forces since the "Great March of Return" protests began on March 30 this year. According to the health ministry in Gaza, more than 200 others have been injured and 37 ambulances have been damaged. Two weeks ago, Isreali snipers fatally shot paramedic Mousa Jaber Abu Hassanein. About an hour before he was shot, Abu Hassanein had helped rescue one of his colleagues, the Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani who had been injured by an Israeli bullet. Loubani later told how he was shot in the leg when everything was quiet around him. He was quoted as saying that no burning tires, smoke, or tear gas, and nobody messing around in front of the buffer zone – just a clearly marked medical team well away from everybody else.

The massive number of casualties and the manner by which the medical personnel were preyed on proves there is an Israeli systematic policy of targeting the medical personnel while carrying out their humanitarian duty.

Health Alliance for Democracy believes that these different attacks against the Palestinian medical personnel, especially those working in the field, are a serious violation of the international human rights, humanitarian laws and corresponding international standards regulating the protection rules of medical personnel, including paramedics, their vehicles and medical facilities. The serious violations and deliberate attacks against the medical personnel amount to no less than a war crimes per the 1949 fourth Geneva Convention. The use of lethal force is a serious violation of the rules of intentional law and international humanitarian law.

We join the world in condemning these crimes committed by Israeli forces and share the belief that Israel’s impunity is strongly backed by the U.S. We also support the call for an urgent, impartial and comprehensive investigation and appropriate actions by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention Protocols.  Furthermore, we remain in solidarity with the Palestinian people for their longstanding cry for justice and the call to Free Palestine and End the Israeli occupation.##

Thursday, April 5, 2018

World Health Organization or Corporation?

Press Release: April 5, 2018

Health Alliance for Democracy, together with the ILPS Health Commission and the People's Health Movement–Southeast Asia, calls on the World Health Organization (WHO) to admit accountability over the Dengvaxia fiasco. "The World Health Organization is privy to the unfinished clinical trial of Dengvaxia. It has allowed transnational corporations (TNCs) like Sanofi to hold its reigns and impose medical intervention based on commercial considerations," said Dr. Joseph Carabeo, HEAD Secretary General.

"Two members of WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization have links with Sanofi. This is the same group within WHO that recommended the use of Dengvaxia in March 2016," said Dr. Carabeo. "Corporate interests may have well permeated into the ranks of WHO to push for profit over health."

"Globally, TNCs already exert enormous power over governments and International Financial Institutions. Through Public-Private Partnerships, which the WHO has also strongly endorsed almost a decade ago, they are becoming major players in many areas of public policy making, including health," added Carabeo.

Under term partnerships, the private sector participates in diverse activities such as corporate donation, sponsorship, research collaboration, negotiation or public tenders, and contracting out of selected health services. It also includes global health alliances, such as the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which involve high-level policy interactions between United Nations agencies, corporations, and private foundations that propagate a business philosophy.

"To make matters worse, the WHO is now the foremost proponent of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to prop up the image of a stinking healthcare system, with the Department of Health (DOH) as one of its faithful lieutenant," Carabeo added. UHC echoes the DOH's PhilHealth coverage. It is anchored on a finance strategy where healthcare coverage will be through health insurance, instead of directly funding the country's public healthcare system.

"In essence, the people's right to health is now reduced to 'health benefit packages' subject to conditions for insurance reimbursements. It is nothing but more privatization and corporatization!"

"In addition, PhilHealth cards are entirely useless in most areas of the country that have no health centers, much more doctors, nurses, and medicines. This system of finance therefore favors private hospitals and health institutions and other would-be invited private health partners to the demise of the already budget-constrained public hospitals, forced to comply with PhilHealth standards for accreditation," Carabeo quipped.

"The Dengvaxia fiasco and the deceptive UHC are both symptoms of corporate takeover on healthcare with the WHO's blessing. They milk profits out of government funds and Filipinos with measly wages and unsteady sources of income: profits that big pharmaceuticals and politicians are happy to pocket and spend on luxuries," lamented Carabeo. "WHO has indeed become a very effective partner of big businesses for their quest for huge profits at the expense of people's health.  WHO's UHC is nothing but Universal Health Coverage for Profit," Carabeo ended.##

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Justice unserved, justice ignored

One year after his murder, justice remains elusive for Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas. Doctors and other medical professionals marked the first year anniversary of Dr. Drey’s death by renewing calls for justice! 

Candle lighting ceremony, calling for justice for Dr. Drey's death, March 3, 2017.
"While we commemorate his death in various ways, we are united in demanding for justice, as the perpetrators and mastermind of his murder remain at large," said Dr. Joseph Carabeo, Secretary-General of Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD). "Worse, not much has been done to protect frontline health workers from such violence!"

Dr. Drey was serving rural communities in Lanao Del Norte when he was killed in March 1, 2017. He continued to serve as a municipal health officer after his stint with the Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) program of the Department of Health.

Soon after, Dr. Sajid Sinolinding of Cotabato City and Dr. George Repique, Provincial Health Officer of Cavite, were killed in April and July, respectively.

These deaths have highlighted the risks that frontline health workers face in the performance of their duties. However, the DOH still has to institute comprehensive and clear-cut protective measures.

"After the deaths of seven doctors in 2017, what changes have the DOH made to protect health personnel at the frontlines? Apparently none." Carabeo lamented. "How many more doctors need to die in 2018 before the DOH acts? Before Dr. Drey gets any measure of justice?" 

The health sector stands firm with Dr. Drey's family and friends, as well as colleagues and other health professionals, in demanding justice. Moreover, the protection of health personnel serving the frontlines where healthcare is most needed remains a social, practical, and moral imperative that the government must address.##