Philippines- simple health care precautions to avoid a thriller in Manila

The Republic of the Philippines consists of over 7000 islands centred around 800 km from the Asian mainland between Taiwan and Borneo. The capital Manila has a population of around 16.6 million, but with a total population of close to 94 million, the Philippines is the world’s twelfth most populous country. Inevitably, spread over such a large area, any comments regarding healthcare are bound to be general, as clearly both the quality and quantity of facilities will vary enormously between the towns and cities. With an annual economic growth rate of over 2%, the economy is growing fast, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 70% of the population are expected to be living in urban centres by 2015. The country is prone to a variety of natural hazards, with storms and seismic activity the most common.

There are over 200 active volcanoes and the ocean area to the East is a known location for typhoon formation and development. Whilst climate-sensitive diseases such as TB, dengue fever, malaria, diarrhoea and other mosquito borne viruses are common, the Philippines is also known as a centre where HIV is growing rapidly, with a 25% increase in reported cases between 2001 and 2009, according to the WHO. The rapid increase in HIV is often linked to drug abuse. Between 2007 and 2010, amongst those injecting drugs, the incidence of HIV rose from 0.40% to 53%. In the larger urban centres, the quality of medical facilities is often good. The top Filipino hospitals include the Medical Centre in Alabang, the Asian Hospital, the Makati Medical Centre, the Medical City in Ortigas, and St. Lukes Medical Centre in Quezon City. Many doctors and health practitioners will have studied both locally and in the USA, so qualification standards are generally high. Filipino nurses are also trained by nursing schools that have excellent standards and many will go straight to the USA to work.

In hospitals English is widely spoken throughout the country, so communicating with a medical practitioner should not be hard. The Philippines has both private and public healthcare institutions and most of the government hospitals provide quality healthcare in the same way private hospitals do. The main difference between public and private hospitals lies in the facilities and technologies offered. In general, public hospitals would not be equipped to the same standard as the private ones. However, some of the best doctors are serving in the government hospitals. Private hospitals tend to be located in key cities, but they have a reputation for generally being expensive, so private medical insurance is important, if fees are to be avoided.

The Philippines have stand-by ambulances for any emergency situation. They also have a hotline number which is available in times of emergencies. Pharmacies There are numerous pharmacies in the Philippines. Medicines have to be approved by the Bureau of Food and Drugs and most pharmacies are manned by professional pharmacists who are fully trained and qualified. There are strict guidelines in relation to prescription drugs and the Filipino pharmacists have stringent directives in relation to the sale of such drugs. Health issues Partially as a result of the climate, the risk from major infectious diseases is classed as high. Diseases carried in food or water such as bacterial diarrhoea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever are common, whilst mosquito borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, and Japanese encephalitis are a significant problem.

Cases of Leptospirosis have risen recently in Manila, where flash floods can cause streets to become inundated quickly. Leptospirosis is usually transmitted to humans through rats and their urine, but bacteria in the floodwater can also infect people by entering the body through cuts and skin abrasions. Infection causes influenza-like symptoms, with fever, myalgia, and headache. Most cases, if detected early, can be treated with antibiotics. Severe cases can lead to renal failure and, in some cases, death. The Philippines remains a vibrant and fast growing economic centre and it is now the second largest offshore business processing outsourcing destination after India, making it an important centre for expatriate workers. Several companies that outsource work in the Philippines are Fortune 100 companies across different industries such as banking and finance, energy services, consumer goods and electronics, insurance, and market research. Metro Manila has the majority of these, but more and more cities outside of Manila are emerging as important hubs.

Commenting on the need for private medical insurance for expatriates, Debbie Purser CEO of April International UK said  “Fast growing industry means the Philippines is an important destination for many in the outsourcing industry. Whilst the quality of many healthcare facilities in major centres such as Manila is generally good, the risk of infection from mosquito borne viruses, for example, remains high, particularly for Westerners. With any such illnesses, getting the most appropriate care as quickly as possible is vital, if long term effects are to be avoided. April International UK clients have access to a comprehensive support network, including transport, diagnosis and treatment in this respect.”