‘If you have cancer, you have to be at the hospital’: Health workers in south-eastern Philippines
At the end of October, a few hundred people gathered at a park in the capital Manila to watch as a health worker and a local doctor performed the first major transplant in the country’s troubled southern-most province.
The man was the only one with cancer and had been in and out of the hospital since April.
It was a miracle, said a young doctor who spoke only to Newsweek on condition of anonymity.
It took more than a month for the doctor to get approval from the government, and he was given three days to give the transplant.
The transplant went smoothly, said the young doctor, but a month later, he received a call from his wife, who was in the hospital for cancer treatment.
They were shocked to hear that the woman in the intensive care unit had been the only patient who had survived.
The couple contacted the hospital, and the next day the hospital sent two of the doctors to Manila to conduct the transplant at the same time.
The doctor, Dr. Alfredo Arana, told Newsweek he had to fly to the Philippines from his home in Manila to get permission from the authorities, because he could not get permission to transplant at home.
Arana said he had hoped to get the transplant, but the government did not allow it.
The first two patients to receive transplants were in a hospital in the provincial capital, Quezon City.
Doctors were able to transplant the second patient in Manila, but it was not until the third day that the patient was transferred to the intensive-care unit.
The new donor, Dr, Jose Ceballos, was a 35-year-old family physician who had just finished a six-month residency.
He had been suffering from a serious respiratory ailment for years, and was getting desperate.
But on October 10, his condition improved and he received the transplant that had saved his life.
He was treated in a surgical ward and was placed in a stable, non-invasive bed.
But then he developed a fever and had to be transferred to a more intensive- care unit.
When he finally reached the hospital he had developed a serious infection, and his blood pressure dropped so low that he could barely move.
He died the next morning.
Dr. Cebanos had already been working at the heart of the province’s emergency medical services for several years.
He and the other doctors who had been preparing to transplant in Manila did not expect to be able to do the transplant in Quezon, a city of 6.4 million.
“The reason we had been prepared for this is because the situation there is a little bit different than it is in other parts of the country,” said Dr. Arun Bhattacharya, a senior official in the emergency services.
“There, you go into the hospital and there is an isolation unit for a short time and then you go to a different hospital, because it is the worst part of the emergency system, and it is very unsafe there.”
Bhattakary said that for a transplant to be successful in Quezion, the health workers must be prepared to work as a team.
The government does not allow the use of private doctors, and even private doctors in hospitals are not allowed to work in the public sector.
“It is very difficult to find people who have the necessary knowledge and the willingness to work with patients in their homes,” Bhattachy said.
The problem in Quezo is that the health system in the province is so inefficient that some hospitals are unable to provide care to patients, Bhattachi said.
“Some hospitals in the provinces are so crowded that they have to open up a private hospital and the government is not able to pay for that,” he said.
So when they cannot get private doctors to work, they resort to private doctors who have to go out to the streets to get help.
“If you are a poor person, you are more vulnerable because you have no way to afford your own medical care,” Baddachi said, pointing to the lack of public healthcare.
In other provinces, doctors are often the first ones to see patients, so they are more inclined to save patients.
“When we are working, we see patients from home, but when we are not working, people in the community come and help us,” said Cebany, the new donor.
He said he was thankful to be the first person in the world to receive a transplant.
“I am really thankful for all the people who came to help me and help me with the transplant,” he told Newsweek.
“We did everything in our power to make this happen.”