By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

April 3, 2013

The initial wave of medical missioners are beginning to return from the Philippines where authorities have started enforcing new guidelines – revised after an uproar from Fil-Am doctors – but as they are wont to say, the prognosis is not good.

One team of Chicago-based medical practitioners struck the apparent confusion over new rules by the Philippine Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) requiring Balikbayan medical practitioners to renew their Philippine licenses so they can render free medical services for indigent Filipinos, mostly in the countrysides.

“I applied for license renewal in 2011 for the Vigan (Ilocos Sur) mission and applied again for this mission, costing me $160 yet I did not get my license due to the requirement just promulgated by the PRC that I should be a citizen,” Dr. Simeon Sevandal, president of the Philippine Medical Association in Chicago wrote Asst. Sec. of Health Madeleine Valera who oversees foreign medical missions in the Philippines.

“They did not refund me the amount I paid,” he complained.

This was apparently not an isolated incident. Sevandal revealed that three other doctors in his group also didn’t get their license renewals. “We had to pay for special permits because of this,” he added.

They conducted the free medical, surgical and dental mission in Surigao City and at least two other towns of Surigao del Norte last Jan. 21-25.

Their group included six surgeons, five OB-GYN specialists, four anesthesiologists, two psychiatrists, three general internists, three pediatricians, five family medicine practitioners, three dentists, 12 nurses, a pharmacist, nutritionist and an optometrist, among others.

Sevandal said they were assisted by other medical professionals from the Armed Forces, Department of Education, the Caraga Regional Hospital and the Gigaquit District Hospital.

All together he counted 79 medical volunteers, 54 of whom came from the US.

“We were able to attain our objectives but the follow-up of patients will be the problem,” Dr. Simeon Sevandal, president of the Philippine Medical Association in Chicago, wrote in an email shared with this blog.

“The deficiency lies in the local health clinics. We were informed by our patients in the outreach that they would not be able to get medicines for the chronic conditions especially for diabetes, hypertension, asthma etc.,” he explained.

He said they performed 43 major surgeries, 67 minor surgeries, 629 dental extractions, saw or treated over 5,000 patients, gave away 2,000 pairs of reading glasses and hundreds more of toothbrushes and toothpaste – luxuries for many in the province.

In the end, the medical missioners felt overwhelmed by the people’s needs. “Our group cannot shoulder all the expenses and time needed to alleviate the condition of our people,” Sevandal lamented to Valera.

“Since we are paying for our license renewal and special permits to the PRC, this agency should share the money earned from this venture,” he proposed.

“You can just imagine the amount of money they were able to get from us for license renewal and special permits. I think we should ask congressmen who have pork barrel funds to share with local health clinics…If they are not willing to do this then they can pass a bill in Congress to allocate funds for these local health clinics,” Sevandal added.

Every year, dozens of Fil-Am medical groups from all over the US fan through the Philippines to treat indigent Filipinos, paying for their own tickets and accommodations while in the country. They are sometimes joined by American colleagues. Many bring donated supplies or used medical equipment from their hospitals.

Most of them say it’s their way of giving back to the mother country but some also added, authorities shouldn’t make it more difficult for them to pay their good fortune forward.

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