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Shortage of hospitals and health workers in the Philippines

Author: Hans Jesper Del Mundo

Editors: Motoi Miura, Akihiko Ozaki

(This essay was written when the author stayed in Japan in summer 2017.)

The Philippines is a Southeast Asian country consisting of 7,641 islands. It has a land area of 343,282 km2 and tropical climate with an average of twenty typhoons a year. It currently has a population of 100.98 million with the median age being 24.4 years, sex ratio (M:F) of almost 1 and a population growth rate of 1.51%. Our official languages are Filipino and English.

Although the Philippines currently faces the numerous health problems, only 4.2% of the country’s total budget is spent on health. One of its most important health problems is the high maternal mortality ratio, which was far from our goal 2015. Most of these deaths happen in rural and geographically isolated areas with no access to health facilities or health professionals. Such a situation implicates as if our country lacks doctors, nurses, midwives and others, though this assumption is not really the case.

In reality, it can be said that the Philippines yearly produces a sufficient number of physicians and nurses, with the annual production of about 38,000 nurses and 4,500 physicians. Further, it has been reported that there are currently 130,000 physicians and 500,000 registered nurses in our country. However, despite these numbers, a ratio of doctors and nurses to the total population is still very far from the ideal, because there are just not enough job opportunities even in government hospitals. This is the main reason why most health professionals practice abroad or even considers changing careers.

I live in a town called Maddela, which suffers a shortage of hospitals and health workers such as doctors, nurses, and midwives. This is why most of the residents there either have to travel to the nearest city for consult or not seek medical care at all. The hospitals and health workers are concentrated in the urban areas, which causes a great maldistribution of health workforce. There is just lack of incentives for doctors to serve in rural communities, which is what the Department of Health is working on right now to be able to deploy more doctors in rural areas. However, even with incentives there’s still lack of equipment in health centers and hospitals in rural areas, which also discourages physicians to practice there for even short term.

There are also about 180,000 hospitals in the country. Yet, 60% of them are operated privately, and the majority of them are located in in the urban areas, which further adds up to the maldistribution of health service provided in the Philippines. Among the 18 regions, only four have sufficient numbers of beds per 1000 population. All of these problems in healthcare delivery, which was built up without enough consideration of health problems the country is confronted with, delivered adverse impact on our country’s current health status, which is why we never reached most of our Millennium Development Goals by 2015. But still I am hopeful that we can address all these challenges and that in the future our health indicators can be just as good as developed countries like Japan.

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