TAXPAYERS are not the only victims of the anomalous Barangay Health Station (BHS) project of the Department of Health’s past administration under then Secretary Janette Garin.
This ambitious project of constructing 5,700 school-based BHS nationwide at a cost of more than P8 billion in the name of “inclusive health” was never fully completed on its 240-day deadline. The project’s extension period in January 2017 also deprived tens of thousands of ailing poor villagers of healthcare services and caused them undue pain and suffering if not disability and death.
Based on the Commission on Audit (CoA) report issued in May 2017, 3,200 BHS were supposed to be constructed in 2015 and the remainder in 2016, but only 822 were completed as of June 2017. In Metro Manila, of the 95 BHS to be constructed during 2015 and 2016, only 13 were completed.
Health and Education officials cited bureaucracy for various delays in implementing the project. CoA attributed the failure to complete the delivery of the 5,700 BHS to poor pre-planning while others speculated the diversion of funds for the election campaign in 2016.
Constructing 5,700 BHS nationwide is actually a noble cause as it would augment the measly number of barangay health centers (BHC) across the country and serve a greater number of citizens needing medical care. But assuming that Health and Education officials were true in their goal of decongesting overcrowded out-patient sections of public hospitals by providing better access to doctors and medicines in the community level, the BHS project still smacks of sinister motives.
It is a fact that BHC or rural health units are ill-equipped, understaffed and many lack in essential medicines for simple ailments. Take, for example, the Barangay Apolonio Samson health center in Quezon City. At a time when President Rodrigo Duterte already ordered the provision of free medicines to the poor, children with open skin wounds, asthma, cough and other infection could not be treated as there is always no doctor around and no available free medicines in that center. It is virtually a referral office to tell parents of ailing children to go to private clinics or other hospitals instead.
In Baliwag, Bulacan, the Virgen de las Flores health center had failed to help children with the same medical condition and can only provide painkillers and prescription for antibiotics.
It should also be serving senior citizens and other residents through free medicines for hypertension, diabetes, some form of cancers and other diseases.
If only Department of Health (DoH) officials were circumspect, honest and incorruptible, they should have instead used P8 billion to hire full-time doctors for BHC and buy essential medicines, including antibiotics, for distribution to villagers for free. The DoH spent P3.71 billion for the hospital services to 1.33 million indigent patients in 2017, according to its annual accomplishment report. With P8 billion, it could help twice that number of patients.
Health officials know for a fact that every barangay has a public school and health center.
Duplicating a BHC in the same barangay will not solve the problem of lack of free medical service and medicines in the community. It will just multiply the number of understaffed and ill-equipped BHC across the country at the rate of two inutile BHC/BHS per barangay.
Some of the BHS, in fact, are being used as an office for lack of equipment, doctor and supply of medicine.
The Duterte administration is investing in the rehabilitation and upgrading of existing health facilities and will construct additional health facilities, including one BHS per barangay, under a 2017-2022 development plan. The Aquino administration’s legacy of an anomalous and incomplete BHS project should serve as a lesson for the current government on how to successfully implement its version of “inclusive healthcare.”