Press Release
May 27, 2009


Seeks to bridge urban-rural gap through Telehealth system

Senator Edgardo J. Angara today promoted a national Telehealth system in the country saying that this means access to quality health care for every Filipino, which could hopefully bridge the gap between health care in the urban and rural areas.

"Two perennial problems haunt and hurt the health-care system in the Philippines: its shortage of doctors, and the concentration of health professionals in urban areas. For a country that exports doctors and nurses, the Philippines suffers from a low 1:15,000 doctor-to-population ratio, more than double the ideal 1:6,000 and a far cry from the US ratio of 1:150," said Angara who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance and authored pioneering laws such as the PhilHealth Act and the Senior Citizens' Act.

He added, "Worse, majority of these doctors reside in urban areas. For instance, the disparity between the number of doctors in the National Capital Region (NCR) and in provinces, such as the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is ghastly alarming."

According to a paper the Philippines presented to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2005, there were 658 doctors in government hospitals in the NCR in 2002, in contrast to the 85 doctors in CAR and 69 in ARMM.

Also, data from Social Watch Philippines show that in 2004, there were 197 private and public hospitals in the NCR, again a stark contrast against the 54 hospitals in CAR and 17 in ARMM.

Angara told that access to health-care significantly affects the quality of life in a region's population. For instance, while the child-mortality rate in the NCR is eight per 1,000 children below five, the figure in CAR is more than double, with 20 deaths for every 1,000 children. The child-mortality rate in ARMM is worse, more than four times the NCR statistics at 33 deaths for every thousand children.

Twenty-four babies die for every thousand infants born in the urban areas, while the infant-mortality rate in rural areas is higher by 50 percent: 36 babies die for every thousand live births.

"There is an urgent need to increase expert health-care services in the countryside. Fortunately, advances in technology provide a means to overcome personnel and regional constraints through out-of-the-box solutions, such as the National Telehealth System," Angara added.

The National Telehealth System, a project first piloted by University of the Philippines Manila in 1998, imparts clinical information and education to distant areas using information and communications technologies (ICT). Through computers and the Internet, supplementary expert care can be delivered to far-flung provinces where health-care specialists are scarce.

Angara added that in 2009 P100 million was allotted to expand the reach and scope of the National Telehealth System. Through ICT, the National Telehealth System will allow remote consultation with experts in the Philippine General Hospital regarding trauma and poison cases, and in determining and responding to epidemics. An electronic health-record system for poison and trauma patients shall also be developed to provide relevant information and health education to the public, and facilitate continuous learning for health professionals.

"Our Constitution has recognized the right to health of every Filipino long before US President Obama said it was the right of every American during his campaign. "This means access to quality health care for every Filipino, regardless of whether he lives in the streets of Manila or at the foothills of Sierra Madre. The National Telehealth System, we hope, could bridge the gap between health care in the urban and rural areas, and make quality health care more accessible to the rural folk", said Angara.

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