October 23, 2005

Philippines in shock from heavy loss of doctors and nurses

MANILA-The National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong city near here needs at least 2,000 doctors and nurses to provide adequate medical care.

It has fully 200 less than that.

The medical staff are leaving in droves. About 60 nurses quit the hospital each year.

In the past two years, three doctors-including a senior physician in his 50s-have pulled up stakes for the United States, where they work not as doctors but as nurses.

Bernardino Vicente, medical center chief at the hospital, considers the situation and sighs.

"Hospitals in our country are like training schools," he says.

The situation is not limited to this hospital.

Lured abroad in the thousands by higher salaries and better working conditions, doctors and nurses are fleeing the Philippines, and leaving a medical care vacuum in their wake.

The situation is a disaster for the health care community. More than 10,000 nurses leave to work in foreign hospitals a year.

Saudi Arabia is the most popular destination, followed by Britain and the United States, say officials.

Foreign currency is tempting. A nurse's monthly salary in the Philippines is about $200 (22,000 yen), and a doctor can expect about $400. A nursing job in the United States, on the other hand, pays more than $4,000-at least 10 times as much.

"Our country is facing a serious crisis of health care," the Philippine Medical Association said in a statement on Sept. 24. The association has a membership of about 50,000 doctors.

The doctors and nurses who are leaving are some of most qualified, too.

The truth is that the Philippine government has been making the problem worse. Desperate for the foreign currency that Filipinos can earn for their families back home, it has been actively trying to send doctors and nurses abroad.

Even now, the government is in talks with the Japanese government on how to send nurses and care workers to work in Japan. Much to its dissatisfaction, Japan is demanding a cap on the number of such workers it will accept.




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