Monday, December 12, 2005


The press calls it a “brain drain” when alarms sounded about hospitals closing down due to deserting doctors emigrating for better paying jobs abroad, a looming medical crisis. By this time, thousands of nurses had embarked on the rampant exodus for employment in the U.S. and U.K. Yet they are only the latest overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) joining the 8 million or so working overseas that remit the dollars home, the group of Pinoys praised as heroes for helping to keep the nation from going down the drain of economic disaster.
These intrepid jobseekers in alien shores have not always been appreciated. The ubiquitous Pinoy nannies in Hong Kong and housemaids in Europe were a source of embarassment for Filipino globetrotting glitterati. The majority of OFWs works in menial jobs but gets paid many times more than similar jobs locally. Work abroad means he or she must endure not just the travails of the job but also the loneliness of separation from family, disrupted social life, strange language and alien customs
The OFW influence on Philippine society has profound implications beyond their economic clout. The average Filipino family consists of the two parents and three children, a family of five. Thus the 8 million OFWs represent half of the country’s population of 80 million. These Pinoys are learning the mores and rules of their host nation, and adapt to them or risk losing their job, their freedom, a hand or even a head. Repatriating OFWs return from a developed country with a higher respect and appreciation of law and order, so their potential to enhance and enrich Philippine culture is enormous. This enlightened class just might become the reformed Pinoy middleclass that will spearhead the renaissance of Philippine society, with the hope and promise of banished corruption, dismantled political dynasties, and laundered dirty politics
The first recorded migration of Filipinos was made by a group of sakadas (plantation workers), who arrived in Hawaii in December 1906, to work in sugarcane fields. This wave may have originated the OFW trend. My maternal grandfather was one of them, but returned to start a family in Luna, a remote town in La Union, (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this now.) Of the eight million overseas Filipinos it is estimated that 2.3 million have settled in the United States as permanent residents. To mark the centennial of these pioneering Filipino migrants, Senate Majority Floor Leader Francis Pangilinan filed Senate Resolution 389 recently to commemorate the event. "It is only fitting for the nation to honor this momentous event because the country owes a lot to our kababayans [countrymen] in Hawaii. They have tremendously helped the Philippine economy remain resilient and stable with their remittances and investments in the country," Pangilinan said.
I was once an OFW, of sorts, having worked for an international food company in East Africa for over a decade. I was one of the team of four (3 Pinoys and an American) sent from DelMonte’s Mindanao facility to pioneer an expansion at a site located in Thika, famed for its flame trees, Kenya. Personal experience taught me that the most challenging phase of work in a foreign land is adjusting to the local people rather than them to us.
But going back to the fear of a looming medical disaster, will there be a crisis in the healthcare system? I don’t think so. Before the so-called exodus up to the present, Filipinos perceive community health as the availability of medical workers -- the surgeons, dentists, nurses, medical specialists and even alternative practitioners such as acupuncturists, iridologists, and physical therapists. Health is also equated with affordable medicines (chemicals that alleviate symptoms but do not remove the cause). But, in reality, most individuals enjoy a healthy life and think of medical assistance only when they are ill. The ailments are usually minor, not life threatening and are healed by time, the vast majority being colds, flu, LBM, stomach upset and hangover (the last two caused by over indulgence). In such cases, there is no mad dash to the doctor, except perhaps the hypochondriac, in which case the doc usually prescribes an OTC (over the counter) non-prescription pill and plenty of bed rest. So, why is the exodus a cause of worry?
Perhaps general anxiety would disappear if the public was better informed, and government adopted and fostered a policy of preventive medicine, rather than the traditional curative mindset favored by doctors and Pharma firms. Prevention is economical because it consists of three components that are entirely under the control of each individual family (with a bit of government assist): Hygiene (basically washing of hands), sanitation (cleaning domicile and surroundings) and nutrition (eating a healthy diet). This means that if one must eat with one’s hands, wash them first, particularly after defecating, shaking hands or handling money. Sanitation means keeping disease carrying vermin and pests (rats, flies and mosquitos) away from the house by good housekeeping and proper garbage disposal. Nutrition means that if we have to eat anyway, choosing healthful foods. Even the cheap foods can be nourishing and enjoyable.
Okay, those three methods zap the bad bugs that cause infections which include such nasties as HIV, TB, dengue, malaria, meningitis, cholera, dysentery But how about the chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, cholesterol, arthritis, asthma, and cancer? Against chronic diseases, at least 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancer could be avoided through healthy diet, regular physical activity, and avoidance of tobacco use.
. The concept is fundamental, easy to understand and apply, and best of all, cheap.
Note that in both infectious and chronic disease nutrition plays a vital role in prevention of disease. This is because food contains the chemicals that the body metabolizes to sustain the immune system that combats the development of disease. Medical science, particularly the pharmaceutical companies, synthesize chemicals from plants and formulate these into medicines that doctors prescribe (in appropriate dosage to avoid harm since all medicines are poison.) In comparison, Nature, over the millenia has been packaging edible plants into foods in dosages that can be dealt with by the human body.Begrudging the loss of doctors and nurses won’t stanch the outflow. Looking after ones health personally would be more productive, the DIY (do it yourself) principle.

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