Dr. Perlas and the Philippines' Ailing Healthcare System

Indeed there is a sadness that I feel whenever I hear of a fellow doctor's passing.  Having sworn the same oath, I wonder how many patients he/she could have helped, if it were not for untimely death (but when is death ever "in time"?  Do we really encounter a death that is fully welcome?)

Who would even want the death of the only doctor available in some remote town or province?

Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas is a 31-year old physician deployed to Lanao del Norte as part of the Doctors to the Barrios program (DTTB).  He was a Biology Major, who graduated from University of the Philippines in 2006 and acquired his medical degree from Western Visayas State University in 2011.  He was originally from Aklan but chose to stay with the community as municipal health officer, even after this contract with DTTB was done.  He conducted medical missions, researched the needs of baranggays and suggested programs that can improve the community.  He would even work beyond work hours just to attend patients.  He was the doctor of the community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  And despite having the means to enrich himself somewhere, he chose to stay because he saw the need.  He was one of the few doctors that Sapad Town in Lanao del Norte has seen in several years.

Last March 1, Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas was shot dead while riding his motorbike in Barangay Maranding Annex.  He was coming home from a medical mission.  He was declared dead on arrival at Lanao del Norte Provincial Hospital.  The bullet pierced his heart.

The police chief said they were investigating a supposed heated argument with a patient regarding admission at Bontilao County Hospital.  

It saddens me how noble service could be repaid by death.  Even if it was true that this doctor got into an argument with a patient or the patient's relatives and even if it was true he was arguing from the wrong side, for whatever reason, this does not deserve death.

We need more doctors and nurses, more than ever.  With our ailing healthcare system, there are only few doctors remaining who are still service-oriented.  I cannot really blame others who have searched for greener pastures or better career satisfaction in rich cities or countries.  One just need to realize that it is so hard to produce a doctor.  It takes years (at least 10 years), resources, money, and intellectual capacity to be a doctor.  And that is only talking about the part of earning the medical degree.  Doctors get better in time, as he practice both the science and art of his vocation.  But with our current health care system, when patient care become less of a priority compared to profits and politics, it is easy to get disillusioned and get burned out.  There are very few Dr. Perlas left in the country who would be willing to sacrifice time, health, money, and career opportunities to be deployed to underserved and far-flung areas.  And one need to realize what it means to be working in places that do not have readily available medications, diagnostics, or even hospital equipment.  You will be the "jack of all trades": the surgeon, the ob-gynecologist, the internist, the anesthesiologist, the pediatrician.  You are the lone doctor, and you have to do the best that you can to serve the healthcare needs of the community because there is just no one else.

I am not saying that Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas is the perfect human being.  Or even the perfect doctor.  But as a fellow physician who know the difficulty of practicing medicine in underserved areas, I salute him for making this choice and I thank him for the time and knowledge he imparted to this community.  By these reasons alone, I also consider him a hero.  The Department of Health will be granting Perlas the "Bayani ng Kalusugan award", an award given to those who make significant contributions to healthcare and well-being of fellow Filipinos.

But this should not end here.  It should not end in our desire to find justice for the untimely death of Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas.  We should start looking at how, in the midst of the political debates and arguments, we may have forgotten about the situation of our fellowmen in the far-flung areas of the country.  Why do people from such communities still have no direct access to health care providers and to healthcare facilities?  If we claim that we are already ready for Universal Health Coverage, then why, then, people from these areas still struggle to be seen by health care providers?  Even if they have health care coverage, then why are there not enough hospital facilities to accommodate those who need it?

Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas, in his own capacity as a municipal health officer, like many others who are part of government health programs, did what he could because it is what is needed.  But when will the government realize it has to do what is needed?

I clamor not only justice for Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas.  I clamor for justice for our ailing healthcare system.


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