Secretary Imelda Nicolas, chairperson of the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO), has pledged that her office will serve as liaison in the conduct of medical missions by Filipino-American groups in the Philippines.
Nicolas made the pledge after Filipino community leaders from all over the US complained about “irksome problems” plaguing the medical missions.
The secretary was one of the resource speakers at a workshop conducted on the third day of NaFFAA’s (National Federation of Filipino-American Associations) 10th Empowerment Conference held on Aug. 2-4, 2012 at the Marriott in the Renaissance Center in Detroit.
Nicolas noted that at present, there is no agency in charge of coordinating or assisting foreign groups that want to undertake medical missions in the Philippines.
She said that upon her return to Manila, she will communicate with government offices involved in the grant of permits, collection of fees and release of medical equipment brought in by groups conducting the missions.
“Yes, we would like you to continue your medical missions, and you will hear from me after I talk with the concerned offices” such as the Department of Health, Professional Regulation Commission, the Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Medical Association.
She urged the missioners to immediately provide her feedback on what is going on the field so her office could respond quickly.
The common sentiment aired during the workshop was that some of the problems were so irksome that these have discouraged several groups in the US from conducting medical missions in the Philippines.
The problems include red tape, imposition of fees, lack of coordination by the government, theft or sale of medical supplies, collection of fees from poor patients, unreasonable demands by some hospitals and politicians getting undue credit for the free services to their constituents.
The speakers were one in deploring the “excessive professional fees” being imposed on medical missions by PRC.
One of the resource speakers, Dr. Victoria Navarra, who is president of the Philippine-American Medical Mission Foundation of Michigan (PAMMFM), said that groups conducting the missions need local coordinators who can get the required permits and other papers.
Talking about the bad experiences of PAMMFM when it conducted its last medical mission in the Philippines, Navarra advised groups intending to undertake medical missions not to allow hospitals to take advantage of them. “Don’t get training hospitals as your partner because they would like you to train their resident physicians,” she said.
She complained that the local partners collected 110 pesos from poor patients as registration fee and they also charged fee for minor services such as cutting a catheter. There were even patients who were required to pay for medicines brought from the US by the missioners, she said.
NaFFAA Region 10 Chair Aurora Soriano Cudal, who is a former senior health education advisor of the Philippine Department of Health, noted that in San Diego, the conduct of medical missions in the Philippines is a favorite charitable undertaking.
She said, however, that she is against the conduct of medical missions that are not planned in accordance with the realities in the Philippines. “I often questioned the effectiveness of medical missions and their impact on the overall health status of the target community,” she said.
She also said she is not in favor of medical missions due to the following: Lack of information about the community the missioners want to serve; high cost of medicines, clinic supplies, transportation and passport processing; absence of community study as well as community leaders and volunteers who can follow up the program after the medical teams leave the community; and lack of communication with the local health clinic.
She reported that after tackling these problems, her group proceeded to conduct the medical mission which turned out to be successful.
Cudal said, however, that recently she found out there is a new PRC guideline which discourages the conduct of medical missions. She added that there should be common guidelines adopted for the conduct of the missions.