Thursday, February 23, 2012

HIV/AIDS and poverty in the Philippines, a call for help

I came upon an article that photographed the conditions and situations of the patients and how it is to be confine in a public hospital by Melchizedek Maquiso. The photographer's subject of interest were the patients of my home Treatment Hub, San Lazaro Hospital, but he was restricted to shoot in the TB Ward and Children's Wards only. I will put through text my first hand experiences, as shooting in the H4 Ward where HIV patients are confined are impossible knowing how strict the ward is when it comes to confidentiality of the patient's identity.

Being confined in a typical public hospital means one is poor or lacks the financial capabilities of being in a better health care institution , it lacks the typical comforts and luxuries of a private hospital such as air-conditioning, private comfort rooms, TV, and a nice comfortable bed. However, what lacks in comfort is what the health care workers make-up for... Being very nice. I cannot comment anything more on how nice I was treated during my time when I was confined in the hospital (H4 Ward). The nurses were fun and were very attentive to our needs. Although drugs were lacking, and patient's have to buy them outside the hospital, they do keep up with the moral support for the patients. That's the best thing I like being with San Lazaro Hospital, it is the people who takes care of us. Our doctors in the H4 ward may be just less than a handful to the number (thousands) of HIV infected patients enrolled under SLH's care, but I saw how hard working they are, also, they have been taking care of PLHIVs longer than any other institution in the country, I think (although I don't have any data to support that theory). 

When I was confined, I saw how the worst of what poverty can do and the best of human emotional endurance. Some of the relatives or the care-takers of the patients have nothing to eat at all, because only the patients have free hospital food, and because they are so poor, they do not have enough money to buy food for themselves. There are free medicines if available in the hospital pharmacy, but if none, the patients have to buy them elsewhere. There are antibiotics that costs as much as P4,000 per bottle that the HIV patients need, most of them couldn't even afford a decent meal what more a medicine with the price of a low-end cellphone. So most them tend to stay in the ward longer because of lack of money to buy the needed medicines. In public hospitals, most equipment are donated by charitable institutions or by other countries. I can proudly say that the machines that caters to HIV/AIDS health care in San Lazaro is complete as well as some of the other hospital equipment, thanks to the help of the Japanese government. The medical equipment used by the staff in the H4 ward as I have heard were donations from private people and institutions. The public hospitals mainly gets its equipment and other machinery from donations and private funding, that is what makes the public health system a little better that it seems. Also , the fees from the pay-wards help pay the bills in the public non-paying wards. The pay-wards, although I haven't seen it, has the usual air-conditioning, private comfort rooms and better beds as they say, but it costs a lot to be there than in the public non-paying wards but definitely cheaper than to be in a private hospital. 

It is heartbreaking to see a fellow patient cry for desperate help when he has no money to spend for medicines and we all know his life is already in dire danger, it is even more heartbreaking to see their relatives specially their parents cry at their bed side saying they don't have any money to buy any medicine at all. One fellow patient was the son of a food peddler, she sells food to construction sites, and along roadsides just for them to have something to eat. Seeing her go to the hospital to check on her son and looking tired after a day's work with no money for medicines and just enough for fare and for the budget on the next day's goods, is just heart wrenching. These are the people who really needs help. There are patients who were even younger, those who has not even finished college yet or just started to work. It is sad to know that their dreams to get out of poverty are cut short by the virus.

I am not against the HIV/AIDS prevention, but I think it already reached a certain popularity that most people already knows about it, and on the importance of getting tested, we cannot force the public to do what we want them to, we can only do so much. What do these institutions (NGOs) do? Make public ads, help those who needs counseling, then help people get tested and more counseling if they tested positive, what else? Does your help extend beyond the counseling up to the point wherein they need Philhealth assistance, medical assistance, food and medicines? The antibiotics prescribed for People/Person Living with HIV (PLHIV) are very expensive, just a little help will extend the lives of my fellow patients. Some patients were so poor and jobless that they themselves cannot even pay for a small fee for the Philhealth insurance, which is a major requirement for a PLHIV. My point is, why not give some funds to the needy, to the Treatment Hubs specially where the poorest of the poor are concentrated like in San Lazaro Hospital. 

The government has so many to spend upon, education, healthcare, paying the country's debts, infrastructure and so on, it is useless to call for them for help, and they already know the impoverish conditions of the public hospital patients. I am calling the attention of private citizens, those who has money to spare and NGOs to donate and help people in the public healthcare system. We are already so attached enjoying the luxuries of what our hard earned cash can give and provide us with. A little help to extend the lives of poverty stricken patients is not a lot to lose from a weekly budget that affords us an exaggeratedly priced coffee or an overpriced meal which has the price equivalent to a week's dose of a life saving antibiotic. 

In this era of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, it is not just prevention that we must face, battle, and uphold, it is the ongoing fight to live. Let us help those who are bedridden and sore, with malnourished pockets and nothing more to spare but their hope of going home alive. 


  1. that would be a good thesis for those whom want to assist us, im thinking maybe do a scatter plot or G.I.S of where these patients live wherein Manila or Kyusi or so on, [district wise]. Suggestions to DOH epidemiological / social disparity--not just survey upon survey-- they help in terms of open ended questions and complaints, but this disparity needs pinpointing and kailangan agad agaran!