President Aquino's speech before 54th Annual Convention of the Philippine Society of Otolaryngology (video)

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President of the Philippines
At the joint opening ceremonies of the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies (IFHNOS) 2010 Global Continuing Medical Education (CME) program, and the 54th Annual Convention of the Philippine Society of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (PSO –HNS)

[October 17, 2010, Crowne Plaza Galleria Manila]

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It is a pleasure to be with you this evening. Let me first congratulate the Philippine Society of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (PSO –HNS) for their 54th annual convention. For over five decades, you have shown the world how truly committed our Filipino medical specialists are in the advancement of their vocation. I’m very happy that the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Society (IFHNOS) chose Manila as one of the venues for your 2010 Global Continuing Medical Education Program. While you’re here, let me make a gentle reminder: my government has great plans underway to further develop tourism. I hope that while you are at this convention, you can still take time to visit some of our historical sites and get to know more about our country’s rich culture, feast on our authentic cuisines, meet our beautiful people and be enthralled by our breathtaking locations.

The medical world has made significant strides in fighting cancer.  In spite of these developments, many people are still afflicted by this dreaded disease. I sympathize with them and their families. Cancer claimed my mother’s life, so I know what it is like to have a loved one go through the suffering caused by cancer. It made me realize how your chosen field requires, not only skill, but dedication and genuine compassion among doctors and hospitals. It is truly a noble endeavor to combat cancer and to save those afflicted with it. I salute all of you here for choosing this vocation.

This convention comes at a time of great changes in the Philippines. Our new government was elected on a tide of hope and optimism for positive change. And we are taking steps to bring about that change.

Our priority is to take care of the poor. A decade of  supposed uninterrupted economic development has unfortunately not benefited a vast number of our people. Therefore, our government is taking concrete steps to ensure that our economic growth will be felt by a greater portion of our population. We are committed in spending the scarce resources we have to improve the country’s education and health care system for those of us who have less in life. They are the ones who are most adversely affected by diseases and illnesses.

Public health facilities can provide the treatment to a number of common diseases for free. But when it comes to more complicated illnesses such as stroke, heart attack and cancer, our poor countrymen lack the resources to cover expenses for health and medical services. More often than not, they end up not seeking help at all. This poverty – poverty of body and also poverty of spirit – is something we are completely committed to reducing.

In the area of healthcare, there is much more that needs to be done, but here is what we have done so far. We have increased the budget of the Department of Health by 13.6% next year. Much of that money will go to public health centers. Universal health care is created particularly for our poor countrymen. We aim to protect them not only from the undesirable health effects but also from the adverse financial implications of diseases, illnesses and emergencies. We aim to do this by improving the coverage and benefits of PhilHealth, our national health insurance agency. A couple of weeks back, the government, through the Department of Health conducted the National PhilHealth Registration Day, and enrolled more than 192, 000 poor families. We will not stop here. In the coming weeks, enrollment of more indigent families will continue as we have proposed 3.5 billion pesos in the DOH budget for this purpose. Our aim is to cover about 5 million Filipino families in three years or less.

But we are not only increasing coverage; we are also increasing their benefits. Currently, the Benefit Delivery Rate of PhilHealth is only at 8 percent. Simply put, in a ward full of 50 patients, only four among them can truly say that PhilHealth was able to assist them in their medical needs. Head and neck injuries and surgery, including treatment, are covered by Philhealth insurance.

We will make PhilHealth work for its members, especially for our poor countrymen. This will not only save thousands of families from the impoverishing effects of disease and illness, it will save thousands of lives.

Furthermore, we will upgrade the state of government facilities all over the country.  They have long suffered from neglect and misplaced priorities. We will improve our hospitals, rural health units and health centers by providing them functional equipment and competent health workers based on their needs. This will enable our government to better respond to the health needs of our countrymen.

Some people, when they talk about cancer, seem to believe that it is a disease that cannot be defeated, that despite recent gains in the field of oncology, it is an affliction that is impossible to overcome. With the huge physical, emotional and financial burdens that cancer entails, I cannot blame them.

But there is hope, and no one knows this more than you who have dedicated their lives in improving the existing remedies to cancer and in finding other alternatives. You recognize that it is a serious problem, but just like any problem, there are ways to solve it.

The most recognizable cancer to many of us is one that afflicts our society, and that is poverty. To address it, we are strengthening the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, which aims to fight poverty by giving stipends and food to the poorest families if they meet certain conditions, such as sending their children to school regularly, or getting their babies vaccinated. It is not easy to implement, but it has already shown proof that it works. We are making it stronger so that in time, the most debilitating social condition that we face today will also be cured.

There are other ways to solve it, where in you as health practitioners can play a vital and active role.

It is my understanding that much of the care being provided by the otorhinolaryngologists and head and neck surgeons are out of reach for most Filipinos. I hope we can do something about this. I am sure you have devoted much time and effort to practice your profession. But let me make this request: please find the time to engage in more charity work. I know that many of you already do this. But I ask your help in doing more. The more you engage in charity, the more we can reduce out-of-pocket expenses for the poor. I am not asking you to impoverish yourselves, but merely to give more for your country.

In the same vein, we all know that health care services are universally needed across localities. However, trained medical specialists are mostly concentrated in the urban areas. This is probably understandable because the specialized equipment and cutting edge technology are found in state-of-the-art health facilities in urban areas. But I hope both Filipino and foreign specialists of the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncology Societies and the Philippine Society of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery can find a way to offer their service and expertise to poor families in the Philippines, especially those in the far flung areas.

I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected in return. The doctors among us today have received a lot of blessings and opportunities throughout their entire lives. Maybe it is time to give back by sharing to our poor countrymen your knowledge and expertise in treating complicated diseases.

As you go through your Continuing Medical Education Program to talk about advanced surgical techniques in the treatment of cancer, may you always be reminded that the hopes and dreams of thousands of cancer patients rest on your shoulders.  It is my sincere hope that you do not let them down. I am confident that this event will serve as an impetus propelling your organizations and the whole medical society in achieving your pursuit to provide quality, equitable and sustainable healthcare, not just for the Filipinos, but for the rest of the world.

Thank you.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.