Archive for the ‘ASEAN’ Category

The Death Clock and the Dangers of Smoking

October 21, 2008

In the last week of September 2008, Mar Arguelles wrote in Bicol Mail about a “death clock” which ticks for millions including Filipinos who use tobacco. In support of the anti-smoking initiative, I thought I must blog on smoking because it is truly a menace that is linked to a myriad of respiratory illnesses notably lung cancer, asthma, emphysema, pneumonia and other airway diseases. The adverse effects of smoking go beyond the lungs. The heart, blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract, the nervous and urinary systems are among the body organs that bear the brunt of continued exposure to the hazardous biochemical pollutants in cigarette smoke.

In Legazpi City, Philippines, the local government in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH,) multisectoral organizations and preventive medicine advocates introduced the “Death Clock,” a graphic count and warning system on the danger and lethality of smoking. It aims to discourage smoking and urge people to stop the habit. According the World Health Organization (WHO,) smokers in ASEAN countries account for 10% of the 1.25 billion smokers worldwide.

Country/%/# of Smokers in Millions
Malaysia————2.90%——– —-3.65
ASEAN Countries–Total————- 125.8
Source: Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Philstar (09/04/07, Crisostomo, S)

The “Death Clock” is a visual countdown on the number of smoking-related deaths since House bill 3364 or the Picture-Based Health Warning Bill was filed in December last year. The visual countdown indicated that 66,960 Filipinos have already died due to smoking-related diseases as of September 24, 2008. At least 1,680 are expected to die within the next seven days. DOH statistics showed that at least 240 Filipinos die every day, or 87,600 every year, due to smoking-related diseases.” Bicol Mail (09/25/08, Arguelles, M)

The smoking problem in the Philippines can be traced to the active promotion of cigarettes in the early 1960’s. As such it is a problem that can be solved by behavior modification—educational campaigns, designation of non-smoking areas in public places, tobacco warning labels, imposition of high cigarette taxes, regulation of tobacco advertising especially among minors, control of cigarette importation, disincentive to those who cultivate and sell tobacco, assistance to those who seek jobs away from the tobacco industry and prosecution of violators of anti-smoking laws.

A sharp drop in the smoking habit has been realized by wide anti-tobacco campaigns in developed countries, yet a sustained drive must be done to totally eradicate the dangerous habit. These approaches have applications in other health problems as well like alcoholism and obesity. (Photo Credits: CRDancer;; sunnyUK) =0=

RP’s 40% drop in med school enrollment & the foreign doctors

August 27, 2008

It seems a good thing that doctors from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN,) a group of sovereign states in partnership with the Philippines, are coming to the country for study. This development is timely when at least 5,000 doctors have left the country since 2004 and about 6,000 have shifted to study nursing for jobs abroad. In the last three years, a staggering 40% drop in medical enrollment is noted. Asian Journal Online (08/26/08)

An uncertain number of foreign doctors who come from Iran, India, Malaysia and Indonesia and other neighboring countries have sought training in Philippine hospitals, many in the provinces, even if no Department of Health (DOH) guidelines are existent to regulate them.

According to Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Reynaldo Santos, M.D., the arrival of these foreign medical trainees attests to the high quality of education in the country. But this is doubted in the wake of a sharp decline of the number of hospitals, a marked rise in patient load for doctors and nurses, a low passing rate of Filipinos in the United States Medical Licensure Examination (USMLE,) an over-crowding of patients and trainees, lack of budget, equipment upgrade, and medical facilities in many hospitals. See related article on medical diploma mills below.

If the Department of Health (DOH) and the Education Department (CHED) don’t act fast, it will not be long before foreigners will be able to judge for themselves the quality of education and healthcare in the Philippines compared to that of their countries of origin. It is deleterious for the country to rely on foreigners to solve the shortage of physicians or seek them to shore up dwindling medical enrollment. Without infringing on the physicians’ rights, measures to reverse the brain-drain of local doctors must be high in the priority. (Photo Credit: Doctian) =0=


A disturbing article entitled Medical School for Sale? was written by Emil Jurado of Manila Standard on July 26, 2007. It’s unclear whether the Department of Health (DOH) and school authorities (CHED) took satisfactory remedial action to prevent further erosion of credibility with the alleged proliferation of diploma mills in the country.

In concordance with the requirement of ASEAN’s Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA)mandating to honor medical licenses and credentials among member nations, this highlights the need to write the long-overdue guidelines needed for the regulation, hiring, and training of local and foreign doctors in the Philippines. Here’s a part of Jurado’s riveting piece that needed verification plus action from the government:

The Times of India, a very prestigious newspaper, published an article, “Now showing: Manilabhai MBBS*.” The article is very derogatory about our kind of medical education. The latest MBBS scam to appear on the medical scene in India is based in the Philippines. “And this one’s even less complicated than the others.”

The article says: “There is no entrance test for admission, now, will you need to attempt the screening test in return?” says Upveen Harpal, accounting executive, HCMI, which is sending students abroad.

The article adds, “So, anybody with 40 percent in Class XII examination and who could pay Rs 16 lakhas (about P1.6 million) upfront could head for the Philippines for an MBBS and come home to practice. No questions asked, and Harpal claimed that this was a three-party tieup among HCMI, a medical school in Manila and a medical school in Tamil Nadu, India.”

To add insult to injury, Yogesh Sharma of Gujarat Global News Network, Ahmedabad wrote an article entitled, “The Philippines dangles carrots to Gujarat students: Be doctor for Rs 20 lakh.” The article implies that there are no more requirements to enter an MBBS program in the Philippines since the title gives the impression that all one needs is Rs 20 lakh or P2,000,000 to become a doctor, courtesy of fly-by-night or spurious Philippine medical schools, and diploma mills for sale. “ *N.B. M.D. in the Philippines is equivalent to MBBS in India. Manila Standard (07/25/08, Jurado, Emil; Photo Credit: PaulCooperBland)