Understanding Pneumonia in the Philippines

“It hurts to see patients who look bad. I attended to children with pneumonia. They were having severe symptoms because their parents didn’t bring them to the health center right away. But I couldn’t blame them. I imagined myself in their positions; that because they’re so poor, they had to attend to other urgent concerns.

I was the community doctor of Alabat, an island community so poor and isolated, the people there can barely afford to feed themselves. My health center staff and I were the only health workers for the people of the town.

In cases of emergency, it would get scary. The government hospital on the island is more of an infirmary, lacking equipment and staff. The better hospital is on the mainland, which is a boat ride away! They can better treatment for pneumonia there. There is no sea ambulance. If we’re lucky, we might catch the boat that make regular trips. But boat trips can be unaffordable for many families.

I teach Community Medicine now and one of the things I want my students to learn is not to victim blame. I try to teach empathy. What is the context? Why didn’t the parents want their kids confined in hospitals even though they needed it? Why did they insist that we cure their kids using what’s available even if it’s not enough? It’s because they couldn’t afford to prioritize health, especially if it means out-of-pocket expenses. Simply put, the treatment for pneumonia is too expensive for many families. I see it as a manifestation of injustice and inequity when patients who live in poor communities don’t have access to quality healthcare. It’s really painful to see how their access to health services is lacking.

Dr. Paolo Medina
Assistant Professor (Community Medicine), University of the Philippines College of Medicine
Former Municipal Health Officer, Alabat Island, Quezon, Quezon

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ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN:
Pneumonia is the leading cause of deaths for children under the age of 5 in the Philippines. There is a vaccine, but it’s priced too high for all Filipino children to get vaccinated in the long term. That’s because pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and GSK still have yet to drop the price. Meanwhile, they’ve made over US$28 billion in global sales from the pneumonia vaccine alone.

We believe that life-saving vaccines should be accessible for all Filipino children, not kept out of reach in the interest of large profits. That’s why NextDayBetter and Doctors Without Borders have partnered on a global action campaign asking Pfizer and GSK to drop the price of the pneumonia vaccine for developing countries like the Philippines.

NextDayBetter Storyteller: Candice Quimpo