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From wwnews-report@wwpublish.com Tue Nov 25 13:15:06 2003
From: WW News Service <wwnews@wwpublish.com>
To: WW News Service <wwnews@wwpublish.com>
Subject: wwnews Digest #729
Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2003 13:06:03 -0500

From: <wwnews@wwpublish.com> (WW)
Message-ID: <3FC36AB7.1080307@wwpublish.com>
Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2003 09:44:07 -0500
Subject: [WW] Manila conference says war, globalization are health issues

Via Workers World News Service

Manila conference says war, globalization are health issues

By Hillel Cohen, Manila, Workers World, #729, 27 November 2003

Delegates from 10 countries joined health workers and activists from the Philippines on Nov. 8-9 for an International Conference on Challenges in Health Work Amidst Globalization and War. Gathering in downtown Manila, over 150 delegates and observers exchanged information and experiences of organizing resistance to imperialist attacks on health.

In a keynote address, Congressperson Satur Ocampo from the Bayan Muna Party connected U.S. imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the plight of workers and rural poor in the Philippines and many other former colonial countries.

The huge military spending diverts money from health and other human needs while the threat of military force backs up the economic domination of the U.S. through the World Trade Organi zation, the World Bank and the Internat ional Monetary Fund. Ocampo said that 31 percent— nearly one third—of the national budget of the Philippines goes to debt service on IMF loans, while the proportion for health has gone down to 1.5 percent. Budget cuts have led to big cutbacks in health services and jobs for health workers.

Ocampo, recently elected to Congress, is a legendary figure in the Filipino people’s movement, having served years in prison during the martial-law regime of Ferdinand Marcos.

Dr. Mira Shiva of the All-India Drug Action Network explained how transnational pharmaceutical companies make enormous profits using international patent laws to prevent the manufacture or use of low-cost generic medicines. For example, patented anti-viral drugs for one AIDS patient can cost as much as $10,000 per year, but Indian manufacturers can market the same drugs for $300 per year. But they are prohibited by trade agreements like the one on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights, known as TRIPS.

Giant drug companies are even patenting traditional herbal medicines, such as Indian wheat. Dr. Shiva described a struggle to stop this bio- piracy.

Emma Manuel, national president of the Alliance of Health Workers, outlined the impact on health of the General Agreement on Trades in Services. GATS extends WTO agreements from covering manufactured and agricultural products to covering services like health. In practice, this means foreign investors can enter the Philippines to establish for- profit hospitals, medical services and HMO-style insurance schemes. All of these mean even higher-priced services that are out of reach for most Filipinos, while the government cuts back and corporatizes public hospitals.


Corporatize is supposed to be different than privatize, but in reality it means the same thing. Patients have to pay in advance for everything they need. Whether it is film for an X-ray, gloves for the doctor or any medication, the patient or patient’s family must buy it or the patient will not get treatment.

Health care activists say the word should be profitize, because all of health care is being made into a commodity rather than a service.

Cutbacks also mean fewer staff in the hospitals, with one nurse expected to care for as many as 80 or even 150 patients. Low wages and bad conditions in the health sector drive nurses and doctors to join the ranks of 8 million overseas Filipino workers. In some departments as many as half the nurses and doctors currently working have applied for overseas positions.

The government encourages this export of health professionals because they send money home, propping up the local economy. Although earning much more overseas than in the Philippines, these overseas workers are super-exploited in the host countries and often suffer racial discrimination and mistreatment.

Many other speakers representing Fili pino and international health organizations discussed common problems stemming from the WTO-style globalization. Delegates also expressed opposition to U.S. military aggression around the world, to U.S.-Israeli attacks on the Palestinian people and to harassment by the Phili p pine military of indigenous people, the Moro ethnic minority and poor people in the countryside who are trying to eke out an existence, mostly as share croppers and tenant farmers.

The delegates were especially interested in learning about the growing anti-war movement in the United States and were excited about the large rallies held in Washington and San Francisco on Oct. 25.

In the week leading up to the conference, international delegates took part in exposures hosted by organizers of community-based health programs. These grass-roots programs train volunteers to be community health workers with basic skills in herbal medicines, acupuncture/ acupressure and sanitation.

In these desperately poor communities there is no electricity, no running water and no money for Western medications, let alone visits to health professionals in a distant urban center. The volunteer community health workers provide the only available health care.

Participants in the weeklong exposures met with community health workers and other community organizations and stayed in their houses overnight. These workers are struggling to substitute organization and dedication for the lack of resources, and see health care in the context of a broader struggle for basic rights.

On the last day of the conference, the delegates and observers gathered for a march down Manila’s busiest streets for a protest at the U.S. Embassy. Chanting in English, Spanish and Tagalog, the indigenous language of the Philippines, the protest called for Health, not war and WTO out of health.

A line of riot police blocked the march before it could reach the embassy, but the delegates continued the protest with a rally right at the police line, blocking traffic in both directions.